Home “suite” home

After buying his first home in the Vancouver area, Chris Stepchuk found that renting out to his friends was an easy way to help pay off his mortgage. “I would advise anyone just starting out in the housing market or anyone who is a little bit tight financially to buy [a house with] or build a secondary suite and rent it out,” says Stepchuk.

“An extra $800 per month adds up very quickly. When I first started out, I had a veteran investor tell me that it was ‘making money while I slept’ and he was bang on,” adds Stepchuk.

That’s from a personal perspective. Stepchuk, who is co-owner of Fort Park Property Management, says, on a broader level, “secondary suites are important to B.C. and absolutely critical to the Lower Mainland.

“Many homeowners simply could not afford the large mortgage payments that are part of living in Vancouver without this extra revenue,” he adds.

It’s also a bonus for the renters who live in the suites. “They provide an affordable option for people to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” says Stepchuk. “Many people simply could not afford to live anywhere near the city if basement suites were not an option for them. They’re great for renters because they provide an affordable option without having to commute for more than an hour into the city centre.”

A lack of suites “would lead to more urban sprawl, and certainly lower density through the area,” he continues.

Stigma transformed
But, 20 years ago, suites had a strong stigma attached to them. Neighbours protested against these emerging “monster houses” destroying their neighbourhoods and communities. These objections resulted in a movement to legalize suites, with stringent rules, making it more difficult for homeowners to successfully build a suite and rent it out.

This former movement to limit suites has definitely taken a sharp turn. Many cities and municipalities across B.C. — Kelowna, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, for instance — have a secondary suite program in place. Even West Vancouver started allowing secondary suites last year. Other municipalities such as Nanaimo, North Vancouver and Maple Ridge also allow laneway or coach houses.

“Many municipalities are dealing with the issue of secondary suites today,” says M.J. Whitemarsh, CEO of Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC. “In the past, secondary suites carried a great deal of stigma, but with issues of affordability and density facing us all, most municipalities are working on recognizing suites as an important segment of their housing market.”

Although suites still carry some controversy, perceptions are changing because economics are demanding it. “It allows homeowners to offset their mortgage costs, and with B.C.’s high housing values, that’s a good thing. Of course, that does not mean we should support homeowners who push the limits of the bylaws and create a nuisance in their neighbourhoods. But, as they say, everything in moderation,” says Whitemarsh.

Stepchuk adds: “They provide affordable housing and increased densification, both of which are good for municipalities. On the negative side, they do create more strain on infrastructure, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

Suites from scratch
And we’re seeing more and more residential builders building brand-new homes with secondary suites ready to go, because consumers are demanding it.

Moscone Developments has built everything from custom starters to million-dollar residences, and secondary suites are becoming an integral part of many of its new homes. “The positives of secondary suites are they allow owners to afford a home in a price range they normally wouldn’t be able to,” says Dan Moscone, owner. “I had one couple come in and the bank approved their mortgage after they said they would put a suite in.”

Secondary suites are a definite selling point for homeowners. “About 60 per cent of our units have suites in Whisper Creek [on Burke Mountain in Coquitlam],” says Moscone.

In the new, sought-after Burke Mountain neighbourhood, “almost all new developments have secondary suite capability, and some of these developments have been finished specifically with fully finished, licensed secondary suites,” says Rebecca Permack, Burke Mountain real estate agent and resident.

“Gardenia is a perfect example of a development built with secondary suites already finished. The homes at Belmont at the Foothills by Morningstar Homes were built with unfinished basements, but many of the residents have already finished their homes with secondary suites. The homes in the Nour of the Foothills development also have secondary suites already built in.”

Secondary suites are definitely a key selling feature for Burke Mountain’s luxury homes, sitting at about $700,000 to more than $1 million. “Buyers ask about this all the time,” says Permack.

And it’s not just for single-family homes anymore, either. UniverCity in Burnaby offers suites within suites (i.e., suites in townhomes/apartments).

Burnaby’s approach toward secondary suites is innovatively brave. “By approving the development of ‘flex-suites’ at UniverCity, the City of Burnaby became one of first municipalities in Canada to introduce these legalized secondary suites in a zoning bylaw. A number of other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have now adopted this form of affordable and flexible housing in their own zoning bylaws,” says Jonathan Tinney, community development director for Simon Fraser University (SFU) Community Trust.

“In terms of the use of flex-suites, zoning at UniverCity — both for previous phases as well as for future phases — allows for up to 50 per cent of all units to include one bedroom that can be used as a separate suite. For instance, it includes a separate bathroom, kitchen facilities and access to the hallway.

“A young couple, for example, could buy a three-bedroom unit and rent out the second bedroom initially to help with the mortgage. As time goes by, they have the option of repatriating that space to house their growing family or an aging relative who can no longer live independently. These types of suites help to bring the flexibility we see in single-family homes to higher-density areas,” says Tinney. “Flex-suites are a really important tool to make apartments more affordable, but also more adaptable to the people’s changing circumstances.”

Yet encouraging more flex-suite development still takes concerted effort. “The only challenge for us has been finding ways to encourage the development of more of these types of suites,” says Tinney. “We know from the sales data that units that have been built with a lock-off suite tend to sell faster than other suites in the building, and so we continue to pass this information on to our partners.”

Time to renovate
Buying a home with a built-in suite is a ready-made solution for homebuyers who want a little mortgage help. But for those consumers who want to make their existing home suite-friendly, it can be a big and complicated project, taking weeks and thousands of dollars.

Generally, a suite is a self-contained unit with its own kitchen and bathroom, separate from the principal dwelling in a house.

But, before you begin tearing down walls, consider the work and cost involved with building or renovating a suite, which depends on the type of home you have, your location and work to be done.

It’s crucial to do your research, advises Todd Best, owner of Best Builders. “What we do is promote a sit-down with clients before any work is done, formulate a plan and find out what the city requires for a legal suite. We try to bring a designer right in the beginning,” he says.

“It’s important once we have a contractor that we make people aware — so they understand the cost beforehand and what’s involved,” Best adds.

“Choose your tenants carefully and educate yourself to their rights and yours”

And he cautions homeowners against the temptation of hiring inexperienced contractors or handymen. He has come across many situations where homeowners hire inexperienced workers, only to find they have to spend an additional $20,000 they didn’t plan for to make things right.

His company gets called in to do several “rescue renovations” per year, which could be coming in to repair damage or make sure a suite is up to code. This attention to detail has garnered Best Builders a Georgie Award in 2008 for Best Single-Family Detached Home (over $3 million), and three nominations for 2010.

Stepchuk, whose company manages and owns 30 basement suites in B.C., gives some specific pointers on how to renovate a suite to make it more rentable. He says, “make it bright and inviting, instead of dark and dingy. Large, open windows that let in lots of light, separate laundry and entrance are all keys.

“Also, soundproof between the floor joists if you have a drop-ceiling. Noise complaints are the number 1 issue with tenants. And if you can have the suites separately metered with separate furnaces, this will alleviate a lot of arguments regarding utility usage.”

But, before you even get to the renovation stage, make sure you understand your city’s bylaws and rules. There may be specific requirements regarding parking, location of entrance and windows, square footage of the suite, how many bedrooms it can have and more.

“Some municipalities only permit you to rent a secondary suite to a family member; others may or may not allow the secondary suite doorway to be visible from the street. If you were to build a secondary suite in violation of your zoning requirements, you could be forced to make it comply or to remove it altogether,” according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

“It’s critical that homeowners follow the bylaws, which can vary between municipalities across the province,” says Whitemarsh.

“For the benefit of the owners, renters and the communities, secondary suites need to be built with permits and comply with the BC Building Code,” she adds. “A professional renovator can provide invaluable assistance for homeowners looking to build a suite.”

Stepchuk mirrors this sentiment: “We do advise homeowners looking to rent out an unauthorized basement suite that there is always a risk that they could be shut down by the given municipality, and that they should be aware of that risk.”

Gardenia: Another development on Burke Mountain, Gardenia, has built-in suites to help homeowners offset mortgage costs. Photo: Cory Permack

So, you’re now a landlord
Now that you’re a landlord, you have many other considerations. First, what to charge for rent?

Rent varies across the province. “Most basement suites will rent for somewhere between $750 and all the way up to $1,500, depending on the location, the square footage and the age of the home,” says Stepchuk. “A one-bedroom in Maple Ridge might fetch $795, whereas a two-bedroom in North Vancouver can go up to $1,500 in a newer house.”

As a landlord, it’s not just about what you get, however, but what you have to give. Homeowners have plenty of responsibility when it comes to their tenants. You have to consider the cost of maintenance, utilities and tenants’ needs.

“Tenants frequently complain amongst themselves about noise, parking, garbage, laundry use, pets, utilities and just about everything else you can think of,” says Stepchuk. “Expect to pay a lot more for maintenance. We budget about 10 per cent of our gross monthly rent for maintenance. If the property is renting for $2,000 per month, we budget $200.”

Choosing your tenants wisely could also mean a big difference in how easy your new role as landlord becomes.

“Choose your tenants carefully and educate yourself to their rights and yours. You can make a lot of trouble for yourself if you mistreat your tenants,” says Frank Petersen, a Vancouver homeowner.

Instead of long-term tenants, Petersen and his family prefer home-stay students who rent for a few months. The advantage is there’s less hassle, less noise and more control over the suite. “We rented for a while,” says Petersen, but he found the experience to be a lot of work in terms of repainting and renovating between tenants.

“We get $650 to $750 per person from our home-stays,” says Petersen, which pays for half of their $1,400-a-month mortgage. “If there was a stigma of any sort [regarding suites], I could care less. The benefits are too great to ignore. If you want to buy a house, you must have a mortgage-helper. I know people who have the space and they don’t [rent out]. They are throwing away thousands of dollars in income!”

Terry Nandon, a Coquitlam homeowner describes his experience as “a little bit of both good and bad.” On the plus side, it has been a great mortgage-helper. He lives in Burke Mountain and rents his suite for $850 to $1,000. In other ways it has been inconvenient. “We have two kids. After 9 p.m., we have to make sure there’s no jumping, yelling and noise to be considerate for downstairs [tenants],” Nandon says.

It took four months for the Nandons to build their basement suite from start to finish. Nandon hired a family friend to do the renovations. “It took longer than it should have. We were very lenient with time,” Nandon says. From his own experience, he advises: “Make sure to do your due diligence for contractors. Get reference checks. See their work before committing.”

Nandon further recommends that homeowners make sure contracts are proper and estimated job times are followed, and suggests paying for jobs in instalments, instead of the full amount upfront. And choose a contractor familiar with your city’s bylaws.

“The contractor I scheduled was more familiar with Surrey bylaws,” says Nandon. “During the inspections [in Coquitlam], there were some surprises along the way, in terms of the difference between Surrey and Coquitlam bylaws, but nothing that would have ultimately deterred us from having a suite.” In the end, Nandon made the necessary changes recommended by inspectors and his suite was approved.

When renovations are done well, the rewards are worth it. “The benefit is the additional revenue that the property generates after the renovations are complete,” says Stepchuk, allowing many B.C. homebuyers to afford a beautiful home in a good location they may not have been able to afford otherwise. BCHM

Moscone Developments has built everything from custom starters to million-dollar residences, and secondary suites are becoming an integral part of many of its new homes. “The positives of secondary suites are they allow owners to afford a home in a price range they normally wouldn’t be able to,” says Dan Moscone, owner. “I had one couple come in and the bank approved their mortgage after they said they would put a suite in.”

Secondary suites are a definite selling point for homeowners. “About 60 per cent of our units have suites in Whisper Creek [on Burke Mountain in Coquitlam],” says Moscone.

In the new, sought-after Burke Mountain neighbourhood, “almost all new developments have secondary suite capability, and some of these developments have been finished specifically with fully finished, licensed secondary suites,” says Rebecca Permack, Burke Mountain real estate agent and resident.

“Gardenia is a perfect example of a development built with secondary suites already finished. The homes at Belmont at the Foothills by Morningstar Homes were built with unfinished basements, but many of the residents have already finished their homes with secondary suites. The homes in the Nour of the Foothills development also have secondary suites already built in.”

Secondary suites are definitely a key selling feature for Burke Mountain’s luxury homes, sitting at about $700,000 to more than $1 million. “Buyers ask about this all the time,” says Permack.

And it’s not just for single-family homes anymore, either. UniverCity in Burnaby offers suites within suites (i.e., suites in townhomes/apartments).

Burnaby’s approach toward secondary suites is innovatively brave. “By approving the development of ‘flex-suites’ at UniverCity, the City of Burnaby became one of first municipalities in Canada to introduce these legalized secondary suites in a zoning bylaw. A number of other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have now adopted this form of affordable and flexible housing in their own zoning bylaws,” says Jonathan Tinney, community development director for Simon Fraser University (SFU) Community Trust.

“In terms of the use of flex-suites, zoning at UniverCity — both for previous phases as well as for future phases — allows for up to 50 per cent of all units to include one bedroom that can be used as a separate suite. For instance, it includes a separate bathroom, kitchen facilities and access to the hallway.

“A young couple, for example, could buy a three-bedroom unit and rent out the second bedroom initially to help with the mortgage. As time goes by, they have the option of repatriating that space to house their growing family or an aging relative who can no longer live independently. These types of suites help to bring the flexibility we see in single-family homes to higher-density areas,” says Tinney. “Flex-suites are a really important tool to make apartments more affordable, but also more adaptable to the people’s changing circumstances.”

Yet encouraging more flex-suite development still takes concerted effort. “The only challenge for us has been finding ways to encourage the development of more of these types of suites,” says Tinney. “We know from the sales data that units that have been built with a lock-off suite tend to sell faster than other suites in the building, and so we continue to pass this information on to our partners.”

Time to renovate
Buying a home with a built-in suite is a ready-made solution for homebuyers who want a little mortgage help. But for those consumers who want to make their existing home suite-friendly, it can be a big and complicated project, taking weeks and thousands of dollars.

Generally, a suite is a self-contained unit with its own kitchen and bathroom, separate from the principal dwelling in a house.

But, before you begin tearing down walls, consider the work and cost involved with building or renovating a suite, which depends on the type of home you have, your location and work to be done.

t’s crucial to do your research, advises Todd Best, owner of Best Builders. “What we do is promote a sit-down with clients before any work is done, formulate a plan and find out what the city requires for a legal suite. We try to bring a designer right in the beginning,” he says.“It’s important once we have a contractor that we make people aware — so they understand the cost beforehand and what’s involved,” Best adds.

“Choose your tenants carefully and educate yourself to their rights and yours”

And he cautions homeowners against the temptation of hiring inexperienced contractors or handymen. He has come across many situations where homeowners hire inexperienced workers, only to find they have to spend an additional $20,000 they didn’t plan for to make things right.

His company gets called in to do several “rescue renovations” per year, which could be coming in to repair damage or make sure a suite is up to code. This attention to detail has garnered Best Builders a Georgie Award in 2008 for Best Single-Family Detached Home (over $3 million), and three nominations for 2010.

Stepchuk, whose company manages and owns 30 basement suites in B.C., gives some specific pointers on how to renovate a suite to make it more rentable. He says, “make it bright and inviting, instead of dark and dingy. Large, open windows that let in lots of light, separate laundry and entrance are all keys.

“Also, soundproof between the floor joists if you have a drop-ceiling. Noise complaints are the number 1 issue with tenants. And if you can have the suites separately metered with separate furnaces, this will alleviate a lot of arguments regarding utility usage.”

But, before you even get to the renovation stage, make sure you understand your city’s bylaws and rules. There may be specific requirements regarding parking, location of entrance and windows, square footage of the suite, how many bedrooms it can have and more.

“Some municipalities only permit you to rent a secondary suite to a family member; others may or may not allow the secondary suite doorway to be visible from the street. If you were to build a secondary suite in violation of your zoning requirements, you could be forced to make it comply or to remove it altogether,” according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

“It’s critical that homeowners follow the bylaws, which can vary between municipalities across the province,” says Whitemarsh.

“For the benefit of the owners, renters and the communities, secondary suites need to be built with permits and comply with the BC Building Code,” she adds. “A professional renovator can provide invaluable assistance for homeowners looking to build a suite.”

Stepchuk mirrors this sentiment: “We do advise homeowners looking to rent out an unauthorized basement suite that there is always a risk that they could be shut down by the given municipality, and that they should be aware of that risk.”

So, you’re now a landlord
Now that you’re a landlord, you have many other considerations. First, what to charge for rent?

Rent varies across the province. “Most basement suites will rent for somewhere between $750 and all the way up to $1,500, depending on the location, the square footage and the age of the home,” says Stepchuk. “A one-bedroom in Maple Ridge might fetch $795, whereas a two-bedroom in North Vancouver can go up to $1,500 in a newer house.”

As a landlord, it’s not just about what you get, however, but what you have to give. Homeowners have plenty of responsibility when it comes to their tenants. You have to consider the cost of maintenance, utilities and tenants’ needs.

The Belmont: This single-family home development by Morningstar Homes on Burke Mountain in Coquitlam has built secondary suites right into the design. Photo: Cory Permack

After buying his first home in the Vancouver area, Chris Stepchuk found that renting out to his friends was an easy way to help pay off his mortgage. “I would advise anyone just starting out in the housing market or anyone who is a little bit tight financially to buy [a house with] or build a secondary suite and rent it out,” says Stepchuk.

“An extra $800 per month adds up very quickly. When I first started out, I had a veteran investor tell me that it was ‘making money while I slept’ and he was bang on,” adds Stepchuk.

That’s from a personal perspective. Stepchuk, who is co-owner of Fort Park Property Management, says, on a broader level, “secondary suites are important to B.C. and absolutely critical to the Lower Mainland.

“Many homeowners simply could not afford the large mortgage payments that are part of living in Vancouver without this extra revenue,” he adds.

It’s also a bonus for the renters who live in the suites. “They provide an affordable option for people to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” says Stepchuk. “Many people simply could not afford to live anywhere near the city if basement suites were not an option for them. They’re great for renters because they provide an affordable option without having to commute for more than an hour into the city centre.”

A lack of suites “would lead to more urban sprawl, and certainly lower density through the area,” he continues.

Stigma transformed
But, 20 years ago, suites had a strong stigma attached to them. Neighbours protested against these emerging “monster houses” destroying their neighbourhoods and communities. These objections resulted in a movement to legalize suites, with stringent rules, making it more difficult for homeowners to successfully build a suite and rent it out.

This former movement to limit suites has definitely taken a sharp turn. Many cities and municipalities across B.C. — Kelowna, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, for instance — have a secondary suite program in place. Even West Vancouver started allowing secondary suites last year. Other municipalities such as Nanaimo, North Vancouver and Maple Ridge also allow laneway or coach houses.

“Many municipalities are dealing with the issue of secondary suites today,” says M.J. Whitemarsh, CEO of Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC. “In the past, secondary suites carried a great deal of stigma, but with issues of affordability and density facing us all, most municipalities are working on recognizing suites as an important segment of their housing market.”

Although suites still carry some controversy, perceptions are changing because economics are demanding it. “It allows homeowners to offset their mortgage costs, and with B.C.’s high housing values, that’s a good thing. Of course, that does not mean we should support homeowners who push the limits of the bylaws and create a nuisance in their neighbourhoods. But, as they say, everything in moderation,” says Whitemarsh.

Stepchuk adds: “They provide affordable housing and increased densification, both of which are good for municipalities. On the negative side, they do create more strain on infrastructure, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

Flex-city: One University Crescent by Millenium Development on SFU has a number of units with flex-suites.

Suites from scratch
And we’re seeing more and more residential builders building brand-new homes with secondary suites ready to go, because consumers are demanding it.

Moscone Developments has built everything from custom starters to million-dollar residences, and secondary suites are becoming an integral part of many of its new homes. “The positives of secondary suites are they allow owners to afford a home in a price range they normally wouldn’t be able to,” says Dan Moscone, owner. “I had one couple come in and the bank approved their mortgage after they said they would put a suite in.”

Secondary suites are a definite selling point for homeowners. “About 60 per cent of our units have suites in Whisper Creek [on Burke Mountain in Coquitlam],” says Moscone.

In the new, sought-after Burke Mountain neighbourhood, “almost all new developments have secondary suite capability, and some of these developments have been finished specifically with fully finished, licensed secondary suites,” says Rebecca Permack, Burke Mountain real estate agent and resident.

“Gardenia is a perfect example of a development built with secondary suites already finished. The homes at Belmont at the Foothills by Morningstar Homes were built with unfinished basements, but many of the residents have already finished their homes with secondary suites. The homes in the Nour of the Foothills development also have secondary suites already built in.”

Secondary suites are definitely a key selling feature for Burke Mountain’s luxury homes, sitting at about $700,000 to more than $1 million. “Buyers ask about this all the time,” says Permack.

And it’s not just for single-family homes anymore, either. UniverCity in Burnaby offers suites within suites (i.e., suites in townhomes/apartments).

Burnaby’s approach toward secondary suites is innovatively brave. “By approving the development of ‘flex-suites’ at UniverCity, the City of Burnaby became one of first municipalities in Canada to introduce these legalized secondary suites in a zoning bylaw. A number of other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have now adopted this form of affordable and flexible housing in their own zoning bylaws,” says Jonathan Tinney, community development director for Simon Fraser University (SFU) Community Trust.

“In terms of the use of flex-suites, zoning at UniverCity — both for previous phases as well as for future phases — allows for up to 50 per cent of all units to include one bedroom that can be used as a separate suite. For instance, it includes a separate bathroom, kitchen facilities and access to the hallway.

“A young couple, for example, could buy a three-bedroom unit and rent out the second bedroom initially to help with the mortgage. As time goes by, they have the option of repatriating that space to house their growing family or an aging relative who can no longer live independently. These types of suites help to bring the flexibility we see in single-family homes to higher-density areas,” says Tinney. “Flex-suites are a really important tool to make apartments more affordable, but also more adaptable to the people’s changing circumstances.”

Yet encouraging more flex-suite development still takes concerted effort. “The only challenge for us has been finding ways to encourage the development of more of these types of suites,” says Tinney. “We know from the sales data that units that have been built with a lock-off suite tend to sell faster than other suites in the building, and so we continue to pass this information on to our partners.”

Time to renovate
Buying a home with a built-in suite is a ready-made solution for homebuyers who want a little mortgage help. But for those consumers who want to make their existing home suite-friendly, it can be a big and complicated project, taking weeks and thousands of dollars.

Generally, a suite is a self-contained unit with its own kitchen and bathroom, separate from the principal dwelling in a house.

But, before you begin tearing down walls, consider the work and cost involved with building or renovating a suite, which depends on the type of home you have, your location and work to be done.

It’s crucial to do your research, advises Todd Best, owner of Best Builders. “What we do is promote a sit-down with clients before any work is done, formulate a plan and find out what the city requires for a legal suite. We try to bring a designer right in the beginning,” he says.

“It’s important once we have a contractor that we make people aware — so they understand the cost beforehand and what’s involved,” Best adds.

“Choose your tenants carefully and educate yourself to their rights and yours”

And he cautions homeowners against the temptation of hiring inexperienced contractors or handymen. He has come across many situations where homeowners hire inexperienced workers, only to find they have to spend an additional $20,000 they didn’t plan for to make things right.

His company gets called in to do several “rescue renovations” per year, which could be coming in to repair damage or make sure a suite is up to code. This attention to detail has garnered Best Builders a Georgie Award in 2008 for Best Single-Family Detached Home (over $3 million), and three nominations for 2010.

Stepchuk, whose company manages and owns 30 basement suites in B.C., gives some specific pointers on how to renovate a suite to make it more rentable. He says, “make it bright and inviting, instead of dark and dingy. Large, open windows that let in lots of light, separate laundry and entrance are all keys.

“Also, soundproof between the floor joists if you have a drop-ceiling. Noise complaints are the number 1 issue with tenants. And if you can have the suites separately metered with separate furnaces, this will alleviate a lot of arguments regarding utility usage.”

But, before you even get to the renovation stage, make sure you understand your city’s bylaws and rules. There may be specific requirements regarding parking, location of entrance and windows, square footage of the suite, how many bedrooms it can have and more.

“Some municipalities only permit you to rent a secondary suite to a family member; others may or may not allow the secondary suite doorway to be visible from the street. If you were to build a secondary suite in violation of your zoning requirements, you could be forced to make it comply or to remove it altogether,” according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

“It’s critical that homeowners follow the bylaws, which can vary between municipalities across the province,” says Whitemarsh.

“For the benefit of the owners, renters and the communities, secondary suites need to be built with permits and comply with the BC Building Code,” she adds. “A professional renovator can provide invaluable assistance for homeowners looking to build a suite.”

Stepchuk mirrors this sentiment: “We do advise homeowners looking to rent out an unauthorized basement suite that there is always a risk that they could be shut down by the given municipality, and that they should be aware of that risk.”

Gardenia: Another development on Burke Mountain, Gardenia, has built-in suites to help homeowners offset mortgage costs. Photo: Cory Permack

So, you’re now a landlord
Now that you’re a landlord, you have many other considerations. First, what to charge for rent?

Rent varies across the province. “Most basement suites will rent for somewhere between $750 and all the way up to $1,500, depending on the location, the square footage and the age of the home,” says Stepchuk. “A one-bedroom in Maple Ridge might fetch $795, whereas a two-bedroom in North Vancouver can go up to $1,500 in a newer house.”

As a landlord, it’s not just about what you get, however, but what you have to give. Homeowners have plenty of responsibility when it comes to their tenants. You have to consider the cost of maintenance, utilities and tenants’ needs.

“Tenants frequently complain amongst themselves about noise, parking, garbage, laundry use, pets, utilities and just about everything else you can think of,” says Stepchuk. “Expect to pay a lot more for maintenance. We budget about 10 per cent of our gross monthly rent for maintenance. If the property is renting for $2,000 per month, we budget $200.”

Choosing your tenants wisely could also mean a big difference in how easy your new role as landlord becomes.

“Choose your tenants carefully and educate yourself to their rights and yours. You can make a lot of trouble for yourself if you mistreat your tenants,” says Frank Petersen, a Vancouver homeowner.

Instead of long-term tenants, Petersen and his family prefer home-stay students who rent for a few months. The advantage is there’s less hassle, less noise and more control over the suite. “We rented for a while,” says Petersen, but he found the experience to be a lot of work in terms of repainting and renovating between tenants.

“We get $650 to $750 per person from our home-stays,” says Petersen, which pays for half of their $1,400-a-month mortgage. “If there was a stigma of any sort [regarding suites], I could care less. The benefits are too great to ignore. If you want to buy a house, you must have a mortgage-helper. I know people who have the space and they don’t [rent out]. They are throwing away thousands of dollars in income!”

Terry Nandon, a Coquitlam homeowner describes his experience as “a little bit of both good and bad.” On the plus side, it has been a great mortgage-helper. He lives in Burke Mountain and rents his suite for $850 to $1,000. In other ways it has been inconvenient. “We have two kids. After 9 p.m., we have to make sure there’s no jumping, yelling and noise to be considerate for downstairs [tenants],” Nandon says.

It took four months for the Nandons to build their basement suite from start to finish. Nandon hired a family friend to do the renovations. “It took longer than it should have. We were very lenient with time,” Nandon says. From his own experience, he advises: “Make sure to do your due diligence for contractors. Get reference checks. See their work before committing.”

Nandon further recommends that homeowners make sure contracts are proper and estimated job times are followed, and suggests paying for jobs in instalments, instead of the full amount upfront. And choose a contractor familiar with your city’s bylaws.

“The contractor I scheduled was more familiar with Surrey bylaws,” says Nandon. “During the inspections [in Coquitlam], there were some surprises along the way, in terms of the difference between Surrey and Coquitlam bylaws, but nothing that would have ultimately deterred us from having a suite.” In the end, Nandon made the necessary changes recommended by inspectors and his suite was approved.

When renovations are done well, the rewards are worth it. “The benefit is the additional revenue that the property generates after the renovations are complete,” says Stepchuk, allowing many B.C. homebuyers to afford a beautiful home in a good location they may not have been able to afford otherwise.

Source: BC Homes Magazine


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