legalizing secondary suites

Have you ever thought about renting out your basement as a secondary suite? Once your family dynamic changes, your basement can be transformed from a playspace to a pay-space. Creating a separate living space for a tenant can be an affordable option for renters in a busy market like Toronto or Vaughan and an income boost for the homeowner.

Secondary suites can transform your underutilized space into a money maker. Before you start building a basement kitchen, you need to ensure your suite checks all the legal boxes. Creating a legal living space can be less daunting when you understand the basic requirements for the city and the province.

A smart buy in this market

What classifies as a secondary suite? The City of Vaughan defines it as “a self-contained unit within a house that has its own kitchen, bathroom facilities, and a separate entrance.”

Constructing a dedicated secondary suite has a higher earning potential – and a lot more privacy for all parties – than renting a room. A basement rental can also take a significant bite out of your mortgage payments, while increasing the overall value of your home. That’s great for homeowners, real estate investors, and any first-time buyer who needs an income boost to afford their dream house.

While the amount your suite brings in each month will depend on a few factors (like the area you’re in and the features of your suite), it’s a worthwhile long-term investment. A basement suite with a separate entrance has always been attractive and is even more so these days with the rising costs of purchasing a home. A legal suite adds an extra layer of trust and confidence for the renter, and many are willing to pay top dollar knowing the suite has passed inspections for building code, electrical and fire safety.

Buying a home that can accommodate a secondary suite is a very smart move, and not just because it can make home ownership more affordable: the CMHC, banks, and most lenders will take the additional rental income into account when you apply for a mortgage—which can significantly boost your qualification.

Wondering what to look for during the home hunt? Consider looking for an older, raised-style bungalows  built in the 1970s and 80s. These homes are always in demand, and not only because they can easily be divided into two separate living spaces. The older bungalows typically have generous basements, often with the same square footage of the main floor. If you’re in the market for a home and hope to construct a secondary suite, this housing type offers a ton of potential.

If you’re sold on the idea of constructing that suite, here are the requirements you should know about—whether you’re a homeowner, or looking to buy.

legalizing secondary suites

The Requirements

Before you begin any renovations for a secondary suite, it’s a wise move to meet with a city by-law officer. The officer and a surveyor can assess the property and the lot, giving you a heads up on building requirements and what kind of suite is suitable for your property.  Visit your city’s dedicated FAQ page for secondary suites for more information. (Vaughan:

They Type of Home You Have

To construct a legal secondary suite in Vaughan, you must have a single-family home, semi-detached property, or townhouse. Your new space can’t be in a garage or separate building on your land, and it can’t be in a floodplain.

Your Lot

You must have a property with a frontage of at least nine metres. Your suite can take up to 45 percent of your floor area, and it must be at least 35 square metres in total (again, this applies to floor area).

Your Parking

At minimum, you’ll need to have three parking spaces. I’m talking about your driveway, garage, or carports, not the street. Your front lawn can’t be included either, and the widths of your driveway and landscaped space will be taken into account.

Your Entrances

Your secondary suite must be accessible through either a shared indoor vestibule or a completely separate door. If you’re building a new entrance, it can’t be located along the same wall as the one that leads into your residence. 

The Process

Let’s say your home, or the one you’re planning to buy, fits the bill. What next? Here’s an overview of the steps you’ll have to take.

Talk to the City

Once you inform the city of your plans, you’ll get all the zoning and building requirement info you need to apply for your permits. It’s important to note that the qualifications have changed over the years. So if you have an existing secondary suite that was built before July 14th, 1994, you must have an official fire code inspection performed.

Have Your Drawings Prepared

You’ll need to submit a set of drawings illustrating your proposed suite’s compliance with the provincial building code. That means finding an engineer, architect, or designer with the right qualifications to sketch them out.

To help ensure that the approval process is smooth, it pays to find a pro. And here’s a major bonus: when all is said and done, you’ll have a beautiful (and precise) layout to work with!

Submit Your Building Permit Application

When you submit your building permit application, you’ll have to include your forms, approvals, and drawings. You’ll also need to pay a building permit fee, which will be calculated per square metre.

Next up, it’s time to start shopping around for a contractor. Make sure you choose someone who’s licensed to work in Vaughan.

Have it Built and Inspected

During the construction of or upgrades to your suite, you’re required to have it professionally inspected. You’ll need to inform the Building Standards Department when major steps are completed—and have the work assessed.

That, in a nutshell, is the process of legalizing a secondary suite. Keep in mind that these are the broad strokes. For more details, check out this document prepared by the City of Vaughan.


Renting out a secondary suite is a great way to make your mortgage more affordable.

Own your house? The first step is going to be looking at all provincial and municipal requirements in more detail. If everything looks good, get in touch with the city to verify that your property can accommodate a secondary suite.

Planning to buy? Contact a local real estate expert who can help you find homes that are suitable for your purposes. Someone who’s knowledgeable about secondary suites is ideal, so be sure to ask them about that during your initial chat.

When it comes to secondary suites, I know the process can seem intimidating. If you can take the necessary steps to get the initial work done, making it legal won’t be nearly as complicated (or costly) as you think.


Interested in learning about buying a home in Vaughan? Whether you have questions or are ready to take the first step, I’m here. Give me a call at 416-550-7555 or reach out at