Is Your Student Rental Housing Up to Code?

By: Penelope Graham, Zoocasa

When it comes to a student’s budget, living arrangements are likely the heftiest line item. For those who aren’t able to live with parents (and want to avoid residence dorm life), finding affordable, safe housing is vital.


Renting a suite in a private home rather than a rental-purpose apartment or condo can be an appealing option, and a win-win for both tenant and landlord; rent for these suites are often slightly lower than market rate, while homeowners can use the payments to help offset their mortgage and real estate costs. And, with new government rules that allow home buyers to use 100% of rental suite income to qualify for a mortgage, more of them are taking on the task of being a landlord.


While that’s great news for affordable housing supply, it could also mean your landlord is a total newbie – and you could be vulnerable as a renter. Many existing income suites have been built illegally or may not be up to code. While an inexperienced landlord may not realize their suite’s status, others are willingly running under the radar. If caught, they could be forced to turf their tenants and turn their units back into single-family housing – and you’re out of house and home.


It’s important to know whether your rental housing is up to snuff. Here’s what renters should be aware of:


Is it Legal?


Depending on your city, there are a number of legal ways homeowners can add rental suites to their property:


-       A secondary suite is a separate living unit build into a single-family house (usually the basement);

-       A garage suite is a living unit built above or beside a free-standing garage;

-       A garden suite is a fully separate building located on the same property as a house (often in the backyard).

As well, according to the Second Suites Guide, a secondary suite must include the following to be legal:


·      The residence must be at least five years old

·      The house must be detached (different regulations exist for adding suites to semi-detached and rowhome houses)

·      The exterior of the home cannot be significantly altered

·      The secondary suite cannot be larger than the rest of the home

·      It must have its own separate entrance, bathroom, kitchen and living facilities

·      It must be up to fire code, have a minimum 15-minute fire rating, and at least two escape routes, one of which must be a door leading to the outside

·      It must meet municipality parking requirements


Was it Built Safely?

There are also a number of safety codes and regulations that homeowners must observe when adding a rental suite to their home. First, new builds must be in accordance with their area’s zoning and bylaws. While many cities, including the Edmonton real estate market, encourage the development of suites, there are some neighbourhoods that are exempt due to being heavily industrial, or zoned for business purposes.


Homeowners must also get the required building and development permits before altering their home in any way. Those who don’t run the risk of being fined, or even being forced to remove their improvements – so be sure to ask about this detail before signing your rental agreement.


Renters should also keep an eye out for terms like “retrofitted” on listings – this can be code for a suite that lacks the features it needs to be considered up to code.


Do You Know Your Rights?

It’s important to know what your landlord is and isn’t responsible for, and your rights as a tenant. Living in a separate suite means your tenancy is governed by the Tenant Protection Act in your province – and both you and your landlord should be familiar with it. For example, even though your suite is part of your landlord’s home, they must still provide a minimum 24-hour notice when entering your suite, they cannot restrict whether you have visitors, and they cannot discriminate against you regarding your background or lifestyle choices.

Generally, your provincial Act will enforce the following:

·      Your landlord has the right to collect rent on time, to not have their property damaged, and to not be harassed or disturbed by the tenant

·      The tenant has the right of security of tenure, meaning, you can occupy the suite until there are valid, proven grounds for eviction – even during an ongoing dispute.

·      The tenant has the right to live in a suite that is habitable, safe and properly maintained

·      The tenant has the right to reasonable enjoyment, meaning they can have overnight guests, cook foods of their choice, and come and go as they please.


Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor of, a leading real estate resource that uses full brokerage service and online tools to empower Canadians to buy or sell their home faster, easier, and more successfully.