Homes with Suites

Secondary Suites

Secondary Suites in Nanaimo

There are many names for suites including secondary suites, legal suites, mother-in-law suites, authorized suites, and non-authorized suites. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find definitions of each of these.

Getting clear on all of these names will help educate you on what a secondary suite consists of based on information provided by the City of Nanaimo.

What Constitutes a Secondary Suite?

  • separate space with own or shared entry way
  • separate sleeping area
  • kitchen
  • minimum of a 3 piece bathroom

In 2005 the City Council voted to allow suites in most single family dwellings. This process meant that the home builder or a home owner needed to apply for a building permit to authorise, or to legalize a suite and have all of the safety and building code issues adhered to. Some of the requirements of a secondary suite are:

  • Height of rooms or spaces – The height shall not be less than 2.0 metres or 6’6 ¾”
  • Fire separation between the suite and the main dwelling with smoke alarms.
  • It must be located in a building containing only residential occupancy
  • The secondary suite is located in or is part of a building containing only one other dwelling unit
  • The area of the secondary suite cannot exceed 90 m2 of finished living area (This does not include the areas used for common storage, common laundry facilities or common areas used for egress)
  • Kitchen and bathroom fans are to exhaust to the outdoors (Legal suites only)
  • Hinged exit door with door viewer or clear glass
  • Minimum bedroom window opening size (minimum 15” width/height, minimum 3.75 square feet in area).
  • The area of the secondary suite cannot exceed 40% of the total living floor space of the building it is located in.
  • The Secondary suite cannot be subdivided for the building it is part of under the strata property act.
  • Secondary suite to have its own heating and electrical system independent of the rest of the building.
  • There is only one secondary suite permitted in the building

Frequently Asked Questions

If your suite was built prior to 2005 it would be considered illegal. If a suite built after 2005 without a permit, it is considered illegal. In order to make the suite authorized a Building permit must be applied for and issued to correct the deficiencies identified by the Building Code. In order to change the status from illegal to authorized or legal the owner would be required to call the City, check to ensure with the Zoning bylaw that suites are allowed in the area ( no suites allowed on properties that are less than 370m2) and then apply for a building permit. This will allow the city building inspector to perform necessary inspections and confirm that visible work meets BC Building code standards for life safety issues only. The City will then put a notation on the title of the home stating it is “authorized with a notice on title” – this means that interested parties will learn that the suite was not fully constructed under a building permit.

A suite built after 2005 when the City Council voted in favor of legalizing suites. These suites were built with a building permit and have adhered to all of the safety and building codes outlined by the City. You can legalise a suite that had been built before 2005 if all the required inspections can be carried out as if all the construction was new under a building permit. This may mean deconstruction of portions of the suite including underslab plumbing being exposed. All work done is to be done under a Building Permit.

A suite that was built prior to 2005 that does not meet the safety standards outlined by the City. An unauthorised suite is an illegal suite, regardless of when it was built, that had no permit to install it, pre or post 2005

There is actually no definition for this; doesn’t matter who you rent to mother-in-law or not, the suite needs to be either authorized or legal. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it’s a duck. If it looks like a suite, sounds like a suite, it’s a suite.

If the suite when inspected by the City cannot be authorized, for instance if you are not able to install windows in a bedroom, a ceiling height that is not high enough etc., the city will ask for the removal of the suite which essentially means either removing one of the following:

  • Remove bathroom
  • Remove kitchen (everything – counters, cabinets, appliances, all electrical including countertop plugs, 220 plug for stove, and rangehood wiring)
  • Remove a significant Separation of space between the two former dwellings, returning the house to a single family dwelling.

Another way to work with removing the suite is to take the separation of space away so that the previous suite is now part of the main dwelling. This can happen by taking a significant wall out. The City Building Inspector can help you decide if this is an acceptable option. This option is all dependant on the layout of the house. Each case is different. Some building layouts will not easily accommodate this option, therefore a kitchen removal is usually the option chosen

All authorized and legal suites, and many illegal suites pay double user rates for sewer and garbage. If you are a home owner than owns a home with a suite that is authorized or legal but you are not using the suite you can notify the city so you are not paying double user fees.

In terms of using rental income to qualify for a mortgage the suite must be legal or authorized. If the suite is unauthorized then you cannot use the income from the secondary suite to qualify for your mortgage.


For more information about secondary suites in Nanaimo, download “A Citizen’s Guide to Secondary Suites in Nanaimo” from the City of Nanaimo.

Hayley and Mike appreciated the following qualities in Susan…Professional…punctual…committed…self-motivated…organized…went above and beyond answering questions…responded in a timely manner

We chose Susan as our Realtor because she went above and beyond answering all questions we had before starting our home search. We had a very short period of time to find a home and Susan went out of her way to find us what we were looking for in a home and got a commitment from builders about the purchase of the home in a timely manner.

We would definitely hire Susan again and we have already recommended Susan to others.

Five stars out of five

- Hayley Pinfold & Mike Penton