Legal Basement Suites Vs In-Law Suites

Designing the home of your dreams.

Basement suites? In-law? Garden? Granny suites? What’s the difference? How do you know if one is right for you?

This month, we’ll break down the differences between these suite options and help you to consider if this type of home is right for your family and lifestyle. There are a lot of things to consider.

When you’re getting ready to purchase or build your new home, it’s the perfect time to weigh the options.

At Victory Homes, we have a wide variety of home models available to accommodate the perfect additional suite for you. We’ll even help you plan for, design, and – just as important, budget! – for this new home adventure.


What is a legal basement suite? Aren’t all secondary suites legal?

This is a great question – and the answer is simple – No.

That doesn’t mean it’s illegal, it just means that what you do with your suite, whether you earn income on it and who can live in it, will be dictated by guidelines in place for your protection, the protection of potential tenants/residents, and for things like insurance, property taxes and utilities.

Knowing the Difference

A legal basement suite is a separate dwelling area in the basement of a house that conforms to all city and/or provincial legislative requirements. The term “basement suite” isn’t actually a technical term used in some cities’ bylaws (e.g. City of Edmonton). The term you may encounter is “secondary suite”. Here are just some of things considered in making a basement suite a “legal” one:

  • Separate HVAC (heating, air, etc)
  • Sound-proofing the shared ceiling/floor
  • Separate laundry facilities
  • Separate entrance
  • Large enough basement windows to meet fire code regulations

An in-law suite (or nowadays, “Garden” or “Granny-Suite”) is another area of the home, typically in a basement (more recently also available over an attached or detached garage, or even a separate living unit on your lot) with, at minimum, a separate full bathroom and at least one bedroom. Some things to consider here:

  • This can have a separate or shared entrance with the primary home.
  • Fire code regulations must still be met if located in a basement.
  • Maximum square footage must meet city property guidelines. For example, some newer communities do not allow separate free-standing structures on your property, where older neighbourhoods, or “in-fill” developments can offer approved permits from the city within a certain square footage.
  • If located over a garage, extra care must be given to property ventilation, access, etc.

It is very important to know why you want to have a second
suite in your home before moving forward.

If you want to share this space with extended family, a cheaper and easier solution is a garden or in-law suite. But for added property value, mortgage benefits, or other non-separate living use, you will be required to meet all legal basement suite requirements and have all the property city permits in place. Regarding mortgage benefits, potential rental income can allow certain mortgage lending perks.

Lucky for you – we excel at this! We can help you weigh your options, and then do all the heavy lifting for you!


What is your ideal living situation in a home that hosts more than just your immediate family?

Whether you’re planning to buy or build a home with a legal suite, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. In particular, the current city bylaw requirements should be at the forefront of your planning. But if your plans don’t include renting/lending out the secondary suite to family, there are additional details to consider for however you choose to use your secondary suite.

  • It’s wise to start your process by knowing what the basic requirements are so all of your plans start with the legal essentials that you can build off. If your secondary suite plan involves using it as passive income to pay down the mortgage, consider the amenities you want to offer tenants.
  • If you are moving aging parents into your home and they are looking for their own space and autonomy, write up their list of necessities for privacy and self-governance. Are they comfortable sharing common home amenities like laundry or kitchen you’re willing to share?
  • You may want to consider designing or purchasing a secondary suite that your family resides in while renting out the top floor(s). Most upper floor suites will earn more rental revenue than secondary suites.

Whenever a secondary suite is in the picture you have an opportunity to provide something special for someone else, especially if it’s for your in-law(s)!

You’re making the right move by investing time in thinking about these things before committing to a course of action.


Conversation between all of the parties involved is so essential for success.

Lending the other party your ear today can develop not only your relationship, but lasting peace and comfort in your home tomorrow. You’re doing well if you’re taking that time now! Here are just a few things you can talk about:

  • Discuss the topic with your “in-law” (or whomever it is) before beginning your search or building process. Take into consideration their and your firm requirements, “hope it has,” and bonus features lists. Don’t forget: it’s ok for both parties to be happy and comfortable in the new home.
  • Everyone can expect a lot of change when living situations come together. Sustainable stability is key! So, it may be helpful to move your family in first to get settled into normalcy and routines, and then bring in the additional family members.
  • If you’re building a custom home that contains an in-law suite, discuss privacy AND functionality options with your builder. Consider offering their own small garden space outside their entry door, where they can have a quiet breakfast, plant flower baskets, and have separateness from your pets and/or children playing in the back yard.

If “home is where the heart is,” then your prudence in this aspect of the process can lay the groundwork for a warm heart indeed!


Work with your custom home builder to design the right layout to maximize your investment (laundry, eat-in, bathroom, built in bookshelves/storage, etc).

You’re allowed to build some fun into your process for choosing or designing the right home with the right kind of secondary suite. In fact, we insist 😊!

Remember that this part of buying or building a custom home only lasts a short time, but it leaves a lasting legacy – being intentional with design and planning will net huge dividends, whether financially or familial (or both).

  • Visit show homes with secondary suites to help generate ideas about what you like and do not like for their personal space.
  • Ask your custom home builder what the most-requested features for a secondary suite are. Your builder consultant probably has a lot of experience on the topic! This would also be a good time to talk about trends, and enhanced property value for future resale.
  • Don’t be shy! Consider adding features that the whole household (your family and your in-law) can share and enjoy together on special occasions or for regular fellowship. Perhaps a game room that is accessible by a common area door (i.e. not in either suite)?

Plan to enjoy your new home. If you can’t see yourself being yourself and enjoying a home, then finding the “creature comforts” of life may be more fleeting than expected.

Victory Homes would love to be a part of your family legacy as you walk through this season of life.

If you’re building a custom home that you’re proud to share with extended family or if you’re purchasing a home to grow into while earning rental revenue, we can help you through the process.

We can help you navigate this process in a variety of ways; such as giving you a tour through our show homes or helping you to design and then build your dream home.

If you want to get a head start on your planning, take a look through our current line up of home designs and then get in touch with us to answer any questions you may have.

Victory Homes, Building the home of your dreams…