Understanding Secondary Suites

The following information is supplied to assist the real estate industry, and is intended as general information only. It is based on the City of Calgary Land Use Bylaw (2P80) and The Municipal Government Act, which are to be consulted for specific rules and definitions.

This information has been simplified, and should not be interpreted as conclusive or comprehensive. Each property and situation is unique. The following gives a description of the three different categories of suites


These suites were constructed with proper permits. They currently met all the rules at construction time, and they currently meet present-day rules. They may also have been approved on a development permit, which allows relaxation of the rules.


These suites were built illegally without all the required permits. They did not meet the rules. We often hear of these suites referred to as “mother-in-law” suites.


These suites were built legally at the time of construction, but they do not meet the present-day rules. These are usually the result of the land use (zoning) being changed, or the rules being changed. This term is often referred to as “legal” non-conforming because they are considered to be legal. This status may be lost if a building is destroyed or damaged to more than 75% of its value, or if building use is discontinued for more than six months.

The bylaws controlling private property have changed over the years. These changes have also included changes to the rules and definitions.

Without getting into a long involved legal discussion it is best to simplify the changes that have occurred.

The following describes the way the City of Calgary enforces the rules:

Prior to 1970:

The courts have determined that anything constructed (or in use) prior to 1970 is considered to be non-conforming.


Effective bylaws said that cooking facilities such as a stove, 220 volt wiring, hot plate, microwave oven or toaster oven were not allowed in a basement suite.

 1983 to present:

The current bylaws (Calgary Land Use Bylaw 2P80) say that a kitchen (cooking facilities as above, and also sinks, lower cabinets and counter tops) is not allowed in a basement suite.

There are many ways you can determine the age of a suite, such as contacting previous owners; interviewing neighbors; judging the age of fixtures, moldings, cabinets, wiring, etc.

The City of Calgary responds to complaints about illegal suites, and inspects these properties to see if there is a violation of the Land Use Bylaw. Our Development Field Technicians (through their investigations) determine the date of construction. They also apply the rules as listed above. If a violation is found, the property owners are required to remove either the full kitchen or just the cooking facilities. If the owners fail to comply, legal action is taken against them.

The City of Calgary will not inspect properties and determine the legal status of the suite for the benefit of lawyers, realtors, or perspective buyers, nor will the City give a “letter of comfort” for this purpose.

A common misunderstanding occurs with R-2 properties. In order for two suites to exist, the rule states that the property must have a minimum 15-metre frontage AND 466 Sq Metres of lot area.

Should you require any further information concerning this subject (or other information from the Land Use Bylaw) you may phone 268-5351

Please note that a new LAND USE BYLAW – 1P2007 is now in effect as of July 23, 2007.


For a printable download of this information which reviews these different types of secondary suites, visit the download box below.

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