Legalize an existing secondary suite

Step 1: Review


Do I need a permit?

  • If your basement suite or in-law suite includes both a bathroom and cooking facilities in the unit, you must apply for the necessary secondary suite permits even if you do not intend to rent out the unit.
  • If your basement is already developed without cooking facilities, and you would like to convert it to a secondary suite, please apply for a New Secondary Suite​.​
  • There can only be one secondary suite within each dwelling unit.
  • A backyard suite and a secondary suite cannot be located on the same property.
  • This page has information about legalizing existing secondary suites (built before March 12, 2018). If your suite was built after March 12, 2018, please visit Build a new  secondary suite​.
backyard suite  

Fees

All secondary and backyard suite development permit ($497) and registry ($244) fees are waived until December 31, 2023.

Existing Secondary Suite Fee total Fee breakdown
Planning Approval (Development Permit) $0

planning application fee schedule

Suite Registry $0

planning application fee schedule

Building Safety Approval (Building Permit) $205.92

building permit fee schedule

Electrical (if applicable) $116.50 each

building permit fee schedule

Plumbing (if applicable) $116.50 each

building permit fee schedule

Mechanical (if applicable) $116.50 each

building permit fee schedule

How long will it take to get a permit?

To avoid delays, make sure your application includes all the required documents, plans and information listed on the checklist:

Permit Timeline

Planning Approval (Development Permit)

10 - 12 weeks

Building Safety Approval (Building Permit)

Approx. 7 days

When does my permit expire?

You will receive a permit expiry reminder in the mail. If you need more time, you can extend your permit. Review the extend or reinstate your permit section.

Permit Type Expiry (from date of issuance)
Building Permit 180 days
Contractor Trade Permit 330 days
Homeowner Permit 330 days

Step 2: Prepare


Before you begin, review the Existing Secondary Suite Permit Checklist to find out if your suite meets the existing secondary suite criteria and determine what type of permits you need to apply for.

There are two ways to apply to legalize your existing suite. Use the information below to prepare your application for submission.

Option 1: Reduced Application Requirements

When applying online you will be required to complete and submit:

  1. Owner Declaration form
  2. Existing Secondary Suite Information Sheet
  3. Colored photos of your existing suite
    Note: The photos must be combined into one file to successfully submit online.

Photo requirements

Please ensure your colored photo submission includes pictures of the following:

  • The entryway into the suite, from the outside (including the stairwell into the suite if applicable).
  • The entryway into the suite, from the inside (including the stairwell into the suite if applicable).
  • The suite kitchen (please ensure all cooking appliances are visible).
  • The suite bathroom.
  • The parking area (located on the property only).
  • The outdoor amenity space area / yard that tenants can use for recreation.
  • The mechanical / furnace room showing the ceiling.
  • Each window in a bedroom / sleeping area (include a photo from the inside and the outside).

Option 2: Full Plans

See “Option 2” on the Existing Secondary Suite Permit Checklist for detailed descriptions of drawing requirements.

Building Code requirements

The National Building Code – 2019 Alberta Edition identifies safety considerations that must be in place in any secondary suite. You can find more information in the Secondary Suite – Existing prior to March 12, 2018​ advisory and Existing Secondary Suite Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Bedroom egress windows

Each bedroom must have at least one window that can be fully opened and used to escape during an emergency, such as a fire.

  • The windows must be openable without the use of keys, tools, or special knowledge and without the removal of sashes or hardware. 
  • The window must have an unobstructed opening of 0.35 m2 (3.8 ft2) in area and no dimension less than 380 mm (15").
  • An existing window well must provide a minimum clearance of 550 mm (21.5") in front of the window.
  • If installing a new window, the window well must provide a minimum clearance of 760 mm (30") in front of the window.
  • If a casement-type window is used, it must swing open a full 90 degrees.

Acceptable window styles

Shaded areas illustrated below represent unobstructed openings that must be 0.35 m² with no dimension less than 380 mm.

Casement window
Horizontal sliding window
Vertical sliding window
Inward swinging awning window

Adding or increasing window size

Adding new windows or increasing the size of existing windows in a concrete foundation impacts the wall’s ability to resist soil pressure.

  • The Building Code restricts opening sizes and configurations. For example, a single window may be 1.2 m (4 ft) in width while two windows, spaced less than their average width apart, are considered one large opening. When adding multiple windows in one wall, the maximum width of all windows combined cannot be more than 25% of the wall length.
  • Openings that exceed any of the above requirements must be designed by a professional engineer registered in the province of Alberta.

Smoke and fire protection

Preventing the spread of smoke and fire is essential for safety. The Building Code requires the installation of a smoke tight separation between the main residence and suite.

Smoke-tight separation means

  • Installing a minimum of 12.7 mm (½") thick drywall on the ceiling and on both sides of wall studs that separate a suite from main residence. All drywall joints must be taped and filled with drywall compound to provide a smoke tight joint.
  • Installing a minimum 12.7 mm (1/2”) thick drywall on the ceiling and on both sides of wall studs of the mechanical room or installing an automatic sprinkler(s) as an alternative to drywall in the mechanical room only.  A plumbing permit is required if an automatic sprinkler is installed and the sprinkler must be installed by a journeyman plumber or sprinkler fitter. The sprinkler system must have no more than nine heads with no isolation valve between the heads and domestic water supply.

Additionally:

  • The mechanical room must have a door. The path of travel to an exit door cannot pass through a mechanical room.
  • Any services such as pipes or ductwork, which pass through a protective separation, need to be tightly fitted and sealed with drywall compound. In retrofit situations, existing mechanical rooms may have obstructions that make a smoke-tight separation difficult to construct. One option may be to remove all existing HVAC ducts to ease the installation of 12.7 mm (½”) drywall. Once the separation is constructed, new holes may be cut where required to install ductwork.
  • Double wall (B-Vent) chimneys will require minimum 25.4 mm (1”) clearance to ½” drywall and tightly fitted sheet metal fire stop to maintain the smoke separation.
  • Single wall vent connectors will require minimum 152.4 mm (6”) clearance to ½” drywall.
  • Smoke alarms must be installed at, or near, the ceiling of each floor level in both the primary dwelling and secondary suite. Smoke alarms are required in each bedroom, common space and any supplementary spaces including furnace rooms. Smoke alarms must be permanently wired to the electrical panel through a circuit that contains lighting or a mix of lighting and receptacles, if that circuit is protected by an arc fault circuit interrupter and/or a ground fault circuit interrupter, the smoke alarms must contain an integral battery (10-year battery) as a secondary supply source. They must also be interconnected, so the activation of one smoke alarm will cause all units in the secondary suite and a minimum of one smoke alarm to sound in the main residence.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms should be centrally located in the primary dwelling, the secondary suite and mechanical room. They should be installed at the height specified by the manufacturer and located within 5 m (16’5”) of any bedrooms. They must be permanently wired to the electrical panel through a circuit that contains lighting or a mix of lighting and receptacles, if that circuit is protected by an arc fault circuit interrupter and/or a ground fault circuit interrupter, the carbon monoxide alarm must contain an integral battery (10 year battery) as a secondary supply source. They must also be interconnected, so the activation of one carbon monoxide alarm will cause all units in the secondary suite and a minimum of one carbon monoxide alarm to sound in the main residence. An electrical permit is required if installing additional wired smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms.

Exterior stairways and protection of secondary suite exits

There are additional requirements to consider when the only exit for a suite is through an exterior stairway.

Where an exterior stair from the secondary suite leads is located near  a door or window of the primary dwelling, that door or window must have wired glass or glass block or some other protection for the occupants of the secondary suite to have safe egress away from the building.

  • It is important to know that only fixed windows can be fire-protected in this way. Bedroom windows must be operable.
  • Another option is to construct a roof over the exterior exit stair for fire protection. Option B shows an exterior exit stair with a roof providing protection from the window above it.

See the Protection of Openings Near Unenclosed Exterior Stairs and Ramps advisory for more information.

Heating and ventilation

For pre-existing secondary suites, the use of a single heating and ventilation system to serve both the main dwelling and the secondary suite is acceptable.

Plumbing

Secondary Suites must have:

  • A supply of hot water and at least one kitchen sink, toilet and a bathtub or shower.
  • A back-flow prevention device on the branch drains of the sanitary sewer line.

For more information, refer to the following advisories:

Step 3: Apply


To apply online, you need a myID account. Create a myID account.

We’re currently experiencing higher than seasonal application volumes, we apologize for delays. To check the status of your permit, go to vista.calgary.ca and enter in your Job Access Code (JAC) number

Apply in person

Once you have gathered all required documents, you can apply for your permit in person by visiting the Planning Services Centre.

Complete Application Requirement

An application for a permit may be refused if, within ninety (90) days from the date of receipt, adequate information and documentation is not supplied as requested by the Safety Codes Officer. Should a permit be considered for refusal the applicant will be given notification in writing and 30 days to resubmit the missing information. For more information, please review Building Advisory A19-002 Building Permit Complete Application

Step 4: Track


After you submit your application online, you will get a confirmation email with a Job Access Code (JAC).

To track your application and check its status, enter your Job Access Code in Vista.

If you need help or have questions, contact our Planning Services Centre

Step 5: Changes


Step 6: Inspect


Visit Building inspections for information on how to book an inspection, cancel or reschedule, permit expiry and the applicable requirements for each inspection type.

Building permit inspections you will need

Secondary suites

All existing suites built before 2018 must have the minimum life safety requirements installed as outlined in the Alberta Building Code, including:

  • Handrails on stairs.
  • Hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed and interconnected.
  • Smoke sealed mechanical room.
  • Unobstructed bedroom window openings which meet.
  • No security bars on bedroom windows.
  • Drywalled ceiling.
  • A solid core mechanical room door.
  • Direct and protected access to the outside of the suite.
  • Approved trade permit inspections.

Before calling for an inspection, all necessary construction should be completed, and the suite should be ready for tenants to occupy.

Trade permit inspections you may need, if applicable

Electrical trade permits

During an electrical inspection, The City’s safety codes officer (SCO) must have access to all areas where electrical work has been completed.

Before booking your inspection, please ensure that:

  • There is no exposed live wiring.

  • All electrical devices that are required as part of the minimum life safety requirements are installed and operational.

  • Hardwired Smoke/CO detectors are installed and interconnected.

For more information, review the Homeowner electrical wiring guide.

Plumbing trade permits

What you need to complete before you call for each plumbing inspection:

Rough-in inspection

  • Install and complete all plumbing drainage and venting.

  • Install and connect water lines to the rest of the water distribution system.

  • Properly support all drains, vents, and water lines.

  • Install the bathtub/shower valve.

Final inspection

  • Install and ensure all fixtures and equipment are ready for use.

  • Ensure the bathtub and shower water temperature does not exceed 49 degrees Celsius.

  • Seal all piping designed for future fixtures with an approved plug or cap.

  • Provide a shut off valve for all toilets.

HVAC / Mechanical trade permits

Following an inspection, The City’s safety codes officer (SCO) may identify corrective action to comply with the National Building Code (Alberta Edition). In place of a re-inspection, the SCO may provide an option to submit a verification of compliance (VOC).

Homeowners

Call 311 to book an inspection over the phone.

Contractors

If you have a Vista account:

If you do not have a Vista account:

Suites FAQs


Suite registry FAQ

What is the secondary suite registry?

The secondary suite registry is an online, searchable list identifying legal and safe secondary suites in Calgary. These suites have been registered and inspected to meet Alberta’s safety code requirements. View the suite registry bylaw and go to secondarysuites.calgary.ca to view the registry.

What is the goal of the registry?

The registry aims to build awareness with Calgarians about the importance of public safety, and the safety features of a legal secondary suite. Suites that have been inspected by The City and meet the requirements under Alberta’s safety codes provide the necessary measures to help protect lives.

What are the advantages of the registry and sticker for owners?

Registered secondary suites are listed on The City’s website and receive a numbered sticker that can be posted at the main entrance of the suite. Owners can use the registry and sticker as a means to promote their suite to current and future residents.

Is there a cost to be on the registry?

Not currently, however, in January 2022, we will reinstate fees for the suite registry. The registry program is intended to promote the importance of safe secondary suites for Calgarians.

How do I get a secondary suite sticker for my suite?

Please note it will take two to three weeks after the final inspection to receive your sticker in the mail.

Where do I place the sticker on my property?

We recommend placing the stickers on the entry point of the suite. This informs current and future residents that suite is part of The City’s registry program.

If the property is sold, does the registry transfer to the new owner?

Yes. The registry is connected to the address containing the legal and safe secondary suite.

How long is the sticker valid for?

There is no expiry date.

Can I make modifications to my secondary suite after the building permit is approved?

Any changes to your secondary suite could require additional permits and inspections. To ensure modifications meet the requirements of Alberta’s safety codes and do not alter the safety features of your suite, contact The City’s Planning Services Centre at 403-268-5311 for assistance.

What penalties might I face for owning an unsafe suite?

Safety is always top priority for The City. Our inspectors work collaboratively with secondary suite owners, and we determine appropriate timelines to complete work. However, if owners of illegal suites do not comply with minimum safety standards, we may take legal action.

Can I be removed from the registry?

The City investigates all complaints, should your secondary suite be found to no longer comply with Alberta’s safety codes, your suite will be removed from the registry.​

Suite addressing FAQ

The City of Calgary requires the assignment of a separate address for secondary suites to supplement the basic address of the main dwelling. The identifier for the secondary suite may be alphabetical or numeric. Suite numbers are shown at the start of the address for the following purposes:

Emergency response and wayfinding

If an emergency event occurs in the secondary suite, every second counts and a precise location will assist the emergency responders to locate the suite.

Current and future utility hookups

Utility hookups require the exact suite address where the utilities will be hooked up and for the utility bill to be sent.

Applications for future business licences

A requirement of a business licence is to have the exact suite address to where the business will be operating. Although there might not be a business operating out of the secondary suite at this time, an address will still be created to enable a business to be licenced at the suite when needed.

Applications for future short-term rentals

Although the secondary suite might not be used as a short-term rental at this time, a new address will still be created to enable a suite to be licenced for a short-term rental when needed. The licence requires the exact suite address and not the main dwelling address.

Canada post and other mail delivery services

Although not a City of Calgary requirement, having a separate address for the secondary suite will assist in the delivery of mail to the correct dwelling unit.

Suite density FAQ

Residential development: Understanding secondary and backyard suites’ impacts on growth in established areas

At a recent Partners in Planning session, hosted by the Federation of Calgary Communities, several questions were asked on understanding suites’ impacts within an established area.

What is the difference between a secondary or backyard suite and a dwelling unit?

A dwelling unit is the primary home for the property. Dwelling units come in many forms like an apartment, single-detached house, semi-detached house or rowhouse.

Suites are spaces used as separate living quarters from the primary home on a property. They can take form as a secondary suite or a backyard suite.

Secondary suites are located within the primary home. They are typically located in the basement but may also be located on the main or upper floors or above an attached garage.

Backyard suites are physically separated from the home and located in the property’s backyard. They are typically built on top of a detached garage but can also be on the ground floor attached to a detached garage or in an independent structure.

A suite must be approved with a primary home. They are not separate dwelling units, meaning these suites can’t be subdivided or sold separately from the primary home.

Why are suites allowed in single-detached/ R-C1 communities?

Suites are allowed in all low-density residential districts (except the R-MH District) in the City of Calgary. City Council amended the land use bylaw in 2018 to allow for suites throughout the city.

How does the MDP estimate population based on number of units?

The table below provides a common method for calculating population per hectare, by each of the key dwelling unit types (low, medium, high) and the occupancy rate, in established areas.

Why are suites allowed in single-detached/ R-C1 communities?

Secondary suites are allowed in all residential districts in the City of Calgary. City Council amended the land use bylaw in 2018 to allow for secondary suites throughout the city.

Will my property tax increase with the development of a secondary suite or backyard suite?

Property tax is calculated and billed annually using the property’s assessed value, as found on your property assessment notice, and the Council-approve​d property tax rate. Home improvement projects (i.e. basement development) or adding livable space to your home could increase your property taxes. If you have questions about property tax, contact 311.

Are levies charged on suites in the established area?

Developers pay for the costs of infrastructure within a development site that they’re building but exempts backyard and secondary suites, following the rules outline in the Off-site Levy Bylaw. For established areas, levies are collected for the treatment plant levy. More information can be found on our Off-site Levy page.

What are the parking requirements for suites?

Under the current Land Use Bylaw, suites require a minimum of one motor vehicle parking stall. This requirement is reduced in some land use districts where certain conditions are met such as a limited floor area, proximity to transit, provision of bicycle parking or where the main dwelling has 2 or more parking stalls. A relaxation in parking minimums may be considered based on proximity to city centre, amenities and public transit. For more information, please refer to the Policy to Guide Discretion for Secondary Suites and Backyard Suites.

Are suites considered in The Municipal Development Plan (MDP)’s density calculation?

Yes, indirectly. The Municipal Development Plan has intensity targets for select areas of the city, including activity centres, main streets, transit station areas and new communities. These targets are measured as people and jobs per hectare, which would include people living in suites in the calculation. These targets are not requirements, but rather aspirations.

How does the MDP estimate population based on number of units?

The table below provides a common method for calculating population per hectare, by each of the key dwelling unit types (low, medium, high) and the occupancy rate, in established areas.

Occupancy rates are based on observed census data, and the population of suites is accounted for in the occupancy rate of low-density dwelling types.

How come suites are not counted towards density?

Density is calculated by the number of primary dwellings on a parcel of land and does not include backyard or secondary suites. These suites do not increase the number of primarily dwelling units on a property as they are created either within the existing home or as part of the backyard.

For example, R-C1 districts allows for single-detached homes as well as secondary suites. A homeowner may choose to convert their basement into a legalized suite, which offers more housing choice in the community but does not increase the number of primary dwelling units onto the property.

What about districts where more than two dwelling units can be on a parcel of land? In the R-CG district, a maximum density is established to regulate the number of homes on a parcel, rather than the type of home. This is because a range of dwelling units may be found in a single building (i.e. a rowhouse may include three, four, five or more dwelling units) and more than one building containing dwelling units may be built on a parcel. In this district, there may be one suite per dwelling, but those suites do not count toward the maximum allowable density. This is done to allow for suites, but not allow for additional dwelling units beyond the maximum density.

Disclaimer: This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically. ​

Calculating population by Dwelling Unit Type in Developed areas - assumptions for dwelling units per hectatre
Residential type  Units per hectare Occupancy rates People per hecare
Low density 17-28 2.8 50-80
Medium density 25-2008 2.4 62-500
High density 225-1041 1.6 360-1667

Occupancy rates are based on observed census data, and the population of suites is accounted for in the occupancy rate of low-density dwelling types.

Planning Services Centre

We’re currently experiencing higher than seasonal application volumes, we apologize for delays. To check the status of your permit, go to vista.calgary.ca and enter in your Job Access Code (JAC) number

Hours:
Monday - Friday
8 a.m. - 4:15p.m. (MT)

Live chat:
calgary.ca/livechat

Call:
403-268-5311

In person:
Whitehorn Multi-Services Centre
3705 35 Street N.E.

Legal and safe: suite registry

Check the Secondary Suite Registry to find or verify a legal suite in Calgary.

Registry suites include all necessary permits and have been inspected to meet Alberta's Safety Code requirements. The registry is continually updated as we approve suites.

If an operating suite does not appear on the registry, you can contact Customer support to submit a complaint.

Click before you dig

Always contact Utility Safety Partners before you dig. Submit a locate request online or call 1-800-242-3447 for more information.


This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically. ​