Secondary Suites Safety Checklist

March 2, 2017  |   Found in Advocacy // Editorial // Feature

Finding a place to live can be stressful, especially if it’s the first time you’ve done it alone. There are lots of options out there, and perhaps the most appealing to those on a budget is a secondary suite. A secondary suite, also known as a “basement suite,” is a separate dwelling inside a single detached house with separate cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities.

There’s a lot to like about secondary suites, with benefits including renter affordability, and the range of choice they offer for students in terms of location and type. However, before you make someone’s basement your home, there are some important safety features you should confirm are present first. Here’s a checklist to keep in mind as you consider your options:

Is the secondary suite registered with the city and therefore legal?

  • If the landowner has registered the suite, their property can be found on the City of Calgary’s Registered Secondary Suites Map (
  • All new and upgraded secondary suites in Calgary must have met the requirements of the Alberta Safety Codes Act. The Alberta Safety Codes Act outlines in detail the logistical standards of construction that make the residence habitable. This includes:
    • Minimum ceiling heights of 1.95m
    • Fire protected walls around the common exit(s) and ceiling using 1 ½ inch dry wall
    • Enclosed gas-fire furnaces and water heaters
    • Independent heating and ventilation systems
  • Even if a secondary suite has been registered, consider asking the landowner the date of their registration and ensuring the standards they built/upgraded the unit on have been maintained. Further details on construction/renovation standards can be found at

Does the secondary suite have the basic features necessary to ensure your safety?

  • Windows
    • Does every bedroom have a window that can easily be opened and closed in the case of an emergency?
    • Is the window clear of obstruction and large enough for you to get through if necessary? If the window has security bars, is there a way for them to be opened and closed without the use of special tools?
  • Alarms
    • Does each unit (upstairs and downstairs) have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?
    • Are the alarms on each level interconnected? Having interconnected alarms means that you will be alerted if there is an emergency upstairs, and your landowner will be alerted if there is an emergency downstairs.
  • Exits
    • Does the living space have its own exit leading directly outside?
    • Do the exits have inwardly swinging doors? Inwardly swinging doors have their hinges on the outside, meaning that the door can be easily removed from the outside if you are trapped inside.

Having a checklist like this one in mind when considering a suite will help ensure that you can enjoy all of the benefits of secondary suites without having to worry about being unsafe. For more information on the way the City of Calgary is involved in maintaining tenant/landowner safety, visit

Good luck house hunting!

Jessica is a second year Secondary Education/History student with a passion for crime shows and Kalamata olives. She used to enjoy a good book until university made her feel guilty for not reading something course related.