Secondary suites & Backyard suites

Print
Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option
Related info

New house construction

Secondary suite registry

Building & property information

Zoning and land use

Subdividing a property

secondary-backyard suitesSecondary suites and backyard suites can be a desirable residential development for both property owners and tenants. However, having a suite developed is not the right fit for all homeowners. This page is intended as a general guide to help homeowners become aware of the requirements necessary when planning a secondary or backyard suite within Medicine Hat.

Don't risk closure of your secondary suite

Existing suites that do not follow current safety codes requirements risk being closed. Find out if your secondary suite meets current requirements by reading the notice below, or contact Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374.

icon_PDFSecondary Suites Building & Fire Code FAQ (2019)

 

Important terms:

A secondary suite is a second dwelling located within a single detached house. It is a self-contained dwelling unit with separate living, cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities. Also sometimes called a basement suite.

A backyard suite is a dwelling located in the rear yard of a site where the principal use is a single detached house. It is a self-contained dwelling with separate living, cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities. There are several names for this type of dwelling, including granny suite, laneway home, backyard cottage, garden suite or carriage house.

 


A development permit covers the what and where a development may proceed, and a building permit covers how it is built. A development permit approves what type of development is allowed on a particular property, taking into account land use and setback issues of the City’s Land Use Bylaw.

A building permit covers how it is built. It allows the construction/demolition of structures contingent on meeting the requirements of the Alberta Building Code.



A Development Permit is always required
for any proposed secondary or backyard suite, and must be applied for and approved prior to building permit and trade permit applications. 

A Building Permit is always required for any proposed secondary or backyard suite.

Trades Permits are also required are also required for any plumbing, electrical, gas, and HVAC (mechanical) work needed in the construction of the secondary or backyard suite. Applicable for licensed and certified contractors only; homeowner trade permits are not issued for work on secondary suites or backyard suites.)

A Land Owner Consent Form is required if the property not owned by the applicant.

To apply for permits, see below: Applying for permits.

Do it yourself

As a homeowner, you may apply for a Building Permit only. The following conditions apply:

  You must be doing the work yourself
  You must own and reside in the home
  You must be capable of performing the work in accordance with the Safety Codes Act
  It must be a single-family dwelling (not a condo building, etc.)

Risks when a permit is not obtained

If you, as a homeowner or contractor, do not have permits for work that has been started or completed, there could be consequences if you do not take action to correct the situation, such as:

  Enforcement action issued by a City Safety Codes Officer or Bylaw Officer.
  A fine for building without a permit.
  Having to undo work that has been completed.
  Future legal and financial issues when selling your property or making an insurance claim.
  Having to do more work than was originally planned and budgeted, to fix deficiencies.
  Potential liability to you, the homeowner, in the event of an accident.

NOTE: As a homeowner, you are responsible for paying any penalties, even if you hired a contractor who assured you that permits were not required. For more info, visit Tips for hiring contractors.

Remember, we are here to help! Call Planning & Development Services at 403-529-8374.



Districts within city

Secondary suites are permitted in some residential districts of the city, according to the Land Use Bylaw. In other districts, secondary suites are considered a Discretionary use; meaning the situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Development Officer within Planning & Development Services. The land use districts (zones) for which secondary suites will be considered are:

  Medium Density Residential District (permitted)
  Low Density Residential District (discretionary)
  Mixed Use District (discretionary)
  Future Urban Development District (discretionary)

To learn more about land use districts, visit Zoning and land use.

General requirements

  The site (lot) on which the secondary suite will be located must be at least 12.2 m wide and 400 m2 in area.
  A maximum of one secondary suite or backyard suite is allowed on a site.
  Secondary suites must be located within a single family dwelling, but are not allowed on a site which contains a duplex (as per the Land Use Bylaw).
  It must have an entrance to the exterior that is separate from the entrance for the principal dwelling, or it may share an entrance to a common interior landing with the principal dwelling.
  It must contain its own living, cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities.
  It must not contain more than two bedrooms.
  It must have its own separate (independent) heating and ventilation system which complies with the Alberta Building Code, sections 9.32 and 9.33.
  The secondary suite and the primary dwelling must have electrically hardwired smoke alarms in each bedroom and all common areas, which must be interconnected.
  A secondary suite must not be subject to separation from the principal dwelling through a condominium conversion or subdivision.

Building and fire code requirements

For more detail about construction regulations and what you need when applying for your Building Permit, see the brochure below:
icon_PDFSecondary Suites - Building and fire code requirements

Inspections will be required for all construction work, including building, electrical, plumbing, gas and mechanical (HVAC). For more information phone Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374 or visit Inspections.



Backyard suites are considered a Discretionary use, and only in some residential districts of the city, according to the Land Use Bylaw. This means that situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Development Officer within Planning & Development Services. The land use districts (zones) for which backyard suites will be considered are:

  Low Density Residential District (discretionary)
  Mixed Use District (discretionary)
  Future Urban Development District (discretionary)

To learn more about land use districts, visit Zoning and land use.

General requirements

  The site (lot) on which the backyard suite will be located must be at least 15.2 m wide and 500 m2 in area.
  It must be located in a rear yard.
  The site must have access to an alley and there must be off-street parking allotted to the backyard suite that is accessed from the alley.
•  A backyard suite must not be more than 65 m2 (700 sq. ft.) in area, including the floor area of a deck or stairway. (Note: the maximum area is slightly less in some city areas. Call 403.529.8374 for more info.)
  External measurement must not be higher than 7 m (23 ft.)
  It must contain its own living, cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities.
  It must not contain more than two bedrooms.
  It must not cover more than 15% of the total site (maximum site coverage.)
  It must have a roof pitch and exterior finishing materials that are consistent with dwellings in the immediate area.
  A maximum of one secondary suite or backyard suite is allowed on a site.
  A backyard suite is not allowed on a site which contains a duplex.
  A backyard suite must not be subject to separation from the principal dwelling through a condominium conversion or subdivision.

Building and fire code requirements

From a Building Codes perspective, constructing a backyard suite is the same as building a new house, with all the same regulations. You must first apply for and be issued a Development Permit. From there, you may apply for a Building Permit and all trade permits (electrical, plumbing, gas, mechanical).

For more information, visit New house construction.

Inspections will be required for all construction work, including building, electrical, plumbing, gas and mechanical (HVAC). For more information phone Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374 or visit Inspections.



Below are the permits and checklists you will need to add a secondary or backyard suite to your property. You may download them below and complete them, or drop by Planning and Development Services and we will assist you.

NOTE: Development Permit must be applied for and approved prior to Building Permit and Trade Permit applications.

Development Permits & Checklists
icon_PDFAdditions and Accessory Buildings Checklist
icon_PDFDevelopment Permit Application

Building Permits & Checklists
icon_PDFBasement Development or Alteration Checklist (for secondary suites)
icon_PDFNew Residential Construction/Additions Checklist (for backyard suites)
icon_PDFResidential Building Permit Application

Trade permits (Licensed professionals only)
icon_PDFElectrical Permit Application
icon_PDFGas Permit Application
icon_PDFPlumbing Permit Application
icon_PDFMechanical Permit Application

Other
icon_PDFLand Owner Consent Form - If you are not the registered owner of the property.

Application fees will be required. Therefore, applicants will typically pay in person at the counter of Planning & Development Services. The City accepts payments in cash, cheques and debit (not credit cards). See Fee Schedule.

Contact:
Planning & Development Services
2nd floor, Medicine Hat City Hall
580 1st Street SE
Phone 403.529.8374
pbe@medicinehat.ca

How long will it take to obtain my permits?

Development Permits: Timelines vary based on the type of application and the impacts to the community.

Building Permits: Typically less than 6 business days, provided that an approved Development Permit has been released.



When planning your backyard suite, it is important to learn where and what underground and overhead utilities are located on your property. Locates are done free of charge but require a couple of days notice to obtain.

When applying for a building permit for your backyard suite construction project, it is required that you also include utility locate slips. To obtain them, contact:

  Alberta One-Call (Electric, Gas, Water, Sewer, Telus) 1.800.242.3447

  Shaw 1-866-344-7429



City approvals are required to make sure your existing secondary suite is legal and safe. Secondary suites which were constructed prior to December 30, 2006 and are considered legal non-conforming in accordance with Medicine Hat's Land Use Bylaw. To ensure these suites are safe and provide adequate fire protection to tenants, these suites have been required to be upgrades to past Alberta Fire Codes.

Recent changes in construction codes have removed all references to existing secondary suites.  The new National Fire Code 2019 Alberta Edition (NFC(AE)) now references the Alberta Building Code in effect at the time of permit issuance for the suite.

To accommodate property owners who have not upgraded their existing suites, Safety Codes Services has issued a 2019 Secondary Suite Advisory Notice (download PDF below). The intention of the advisory is to provide a transition period from the 2014 Alberta Building Code (ABC) to the new National Building Code 2019 Alberta Edition (NBC(AE)) that comes into force October 1 2019. During this transition period, Safety Codes Services will allow property owners the opportunity to continue to apply the old 2014 Alberta Fire Code (AFC) to their suites.

icon_PDF Secondary Suites Building & Fire Code FAQ (May 2019)

Effective May 1, 2019 property owners that wish to take advantage of the advisory and upgrade their existing suite will be required to apply for a building permit. The building permit will provide an opportunity to accept an existing suite as an alternate solution under current 2014 ABC and apply the minimum level of safety regulations set out in the 2014 AFC.

Existing Secondary Suites that have not been upgraded as per the advisory by December 1, 2019 will no longer be considered legally constructed and occupied under the Safety Codes Act and must be either removed or upgraded to the new 2019 NBC(AE).

Remember, we are here to help! If you have questions about the status of your secondary suite, contact Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374.

Registry of City Secondary Suites:

Do you already own a secondary suite in your home? You may have your suite added to the City's online registry, indicating that your suite is legal and safe. Learn more by visiting Secondary Suites (City of Medicine Hat Fire Services).

Learn about the Fire Code requirements for existing secondary suites:

icon_PDFChecklist for existing secondary suites