A secondary suite could be a basement suite, laneway house, or other unit that is on the same property as a residential house.
Yes, the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) applies to secondary suites, even if the suite is “illegal”. Even if the suite is illegal (not registered with the city, or in a city that does not allow secondary suites) both the landlord and tenant must comply with the RTA. Regardless of whether you rent a large apartment building or the basement of a home, the same law applies. For example, your landlord is not allowed to:
- enter your suite without providing proper written notice.
- tell you how to clean your suite. The RTA requires tenants to maintain reasonable health, cleanliness, and sanitary standards. Beyond that, your landlord may not impose their own personal preferences regarding cleanliness.
- restrict your right to have guests, including overnight guests, under reasonable circumstances.
- tell you what or when you are allowed to cook.
You may have heard about “illegal suites” or “unregistered suites”. These terms refer to secondary suites that do not comply with zoning and bylaw requirements, or haven’t been registered with the municipality.
It is very important to understand that illegal or unregistered suites are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. That being said, it is not ideal to be living in one, and issues may arise if the municipality becomes aware of the suite. This can sometimes happen when disputes with neighbours turn into complaints to the municipality, or if the tenant goes to the municipality seeking help with repair or maintenance concerns.
When a municipality discovers an illegal suite, they may decide to shut it down. If this is the case, you will be given a One Month Eviction Notice, and the landlord will most likely not be responsible for paying your moving costs.
For more information on illegal or unregistered suites, contact your City Hall. It is a good idea to find out if the suite you are thinking of renting is legal before signing a tenancy agreement. You can phone the city and ask if there are permits for a secondary suite at that address.
If you know that the suite is illegal, you might want to find out what the city’s attitude is regarding illegal suites. Some cities tend to turn a blind eye, while others take a more active approach of issuing fines or ordering owners to decommission the suites.