Is My Basement Suite Legal?

You created a basement suite as a source of supplemental income, to help pay off your mortgage, offset your property taxes, accommodate visitors, or as a home for your adult child or elderly parent. The question you need to ask now: “Is my basement suite legal?”

Legal basement suites are built after all necessary permits are acquired and in compliance with the local regulations/codes. They are built in an area of the city that is zoned for secondary suites. Did you apply for all the necessary permits prior to building your suite? Did you build to code? Have the local regulations/codes changed since you built? Do you need to upgrade any element of your suite? Did you determine whether your area of residence is zoned for a secondary suite? To know if your suite is legal you need to become informed.

In Alberta, you are legally required to apply for a building permit if you are developing an existing basement, your renovation is more than cosmetic, you wish to add or remove walls, or you plan to make structural changes. If you are unsure whether you need a building permit, contact your city’s planning services center.

To meet Alberta Building Codes, a basement suite built after December 31st 2006 is required to have a heating/ventilation system separate from that of the primary home. This means you need a furnace for the main part of your home and a second furnace (or supplemental heating device such as a space heater) for your basement suite.

The municipal safety code officer for your area has the discretion to accept the ceiling height of your existing basement suite. This provision makes it possible for owners of older homes to avoid the large renovation costs that would be required to adjust the ceiling height. Have you consulted a safety code officer regarding your basement suite?

In Alberta, a legal basement suite must have one window in each bedroom, a window that can be opened from the inside without the use of any special tool or key. This window must be accessible and large enough so that an adult may fit through in case of an emergency. The window may have security bars only if they can be operated from the inside without the use of a tool.

The common area and each bedroom of your suite must have a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector that are connected, so that if one alarm is activated all the alarms in the unit go off. Your basement suite must have at least one exit leading to the outside with a solid core door with a self-closing device.

There is a lot to know! As the owner of a home with a basement suite, you are responsible to make sure that your suite is legal. Don’t despair! There is help for you.

On September 28th 2015, the City of Calgary launched an online suite registry and registered sticker program allowing you to verify if your basement suite meets the Alberta Building Code requirements by having it inspected by the City. Once your suite is proven legal, you receive a registered sticker that you can use to market your suite to prospective tenants. A map of all verified suites can be found online.

If you live in Calgary and you wish to legalize your basement suite, apply for a building permit to upgrade your suite, or begin the process of creating a legal basement suite, you are in luck. The city is currently waiving application fees for Development Permits and Land Use Redesignation.

On March 12th  2018, Calgary City Council approved amendments to the Land Use Bylaw allowing secondary suites within R-1, R-C1 and R-C1L land use districts.

Calgary has relaxed their parking policy regarding suites in the center of the city, area 2 and area 3.

There is no better time to upgrade an illegal apartment or begin construction on a new basement suite.   Econo Basements is there to help. They understand and build in compliance with Alberta’s building codes, and strive to bring your vision for your downstairs space into reality. Call Econo Basements at (403) 261-2926 or email

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