What you to need know : converting your basement into a rental unit

If you’re thinking of converting your basement into a rental unit, there is a lot to consider. As much as you want to focus on matching kitchen cabinets to hardwood floors and playing with paint colors, it isn’t that easy. If changing your basement into an income-generating unit is a top priority, you’re going to dive into the rules and regulations. With the HRM in particular, you’ll need to be fastidious when considering this project.

Over the past 18 months, the city has started to explore ways to crack down on illegal apartments through landlord licensing. Now more than ever, it is important to understand the rules and regulations when converting spare space in your home.

Let’s dive in.

Zoning

As we discuss zoning, it is worth noting that different by-laws apply to different areas of the HRM. You can find all the applicable by-laws here. For illustration, we will use the peninsula by-laws for discussion, which can be found here.

First, find how your property is zoned. The predominant zoning in residential areas of the HRM is R1 Zoning which only permits a single-family dwelling. In order to convert a basement in an R1 Zone, you’ll need to apply for at least R2 Zoning (which permits two units).

An R2 Zone includes semi-detached houses, duplex dwellings and buildings containing no more than four apartments, as well as everything included in an R1 Zone. For a duplex specifically, 50 feet of lot frontage is required along with 5000 feet of lot square footage, while the side yard must be five feet.

For three and four-unit buildings, the lot frontage needs to be at least 80 feet, the lot square footage must be at least 8000 square feet, while the side yard must be six feet. Furthermore, the lot coverage shall not exceed 35% while the maximum height shall not exceed 35 feet.

Converting to a duplex

One thing to know is if your building existed before May 11, 1959, converting to a duplex is permitted as long as it complies with the following stipulations after the conversion:

  1. a duplex dwelling containing not more than a total of six habitable rooms may be permitted on a lot containing an area of not less than 3,300 square feet.
  2. a duplex dwelling containing not more than a total of eight habitable rooms be permitted on a lot containing an area of not less than 4,000 square feet.
  3. there is no increase in height or volume and that the external dimensions of the building have not changed since 25 October 1985.
  4. one separately accessible parking space at least 8 feet by 16 feet shall be provided on the lot for each of the two dwelling units.

If you live in The North End, many buildings can be converted to two units as long as:

  1. there is no increase in height or volume of the building,
  2. one of the unit contains two or more bedrooms,
  3. there are at least one parking space at least 8×16 feet for each dwelling unit.

Building Codes

Building codes are the next set of complications to address. Firstly, the window or door size of each legal bedroom in a home must comply with egress specifications. You can find the full outline here, though at least know that one window must be either 37″x15″ or 24″ x 24″.

Further, By-Law M-200 respecting standards for residential occupancies refers to the following with respect to egress:

  1. every dwelling or dwelling unit shall have a safe, continuous and unobstructed passage from the interior of the dwelling to exterior grade level.
  2. buildings equipped with a fire escape as a secondary means of egress shall maintain the escape in good condition, be free from obstructions and easily accessed through a window or door operable from inside without requiring keys or specialized knowledge to open.
  3. any required egress shall not pass through a room in another dwelling unit or a service room.
  4. where egress windows are provided, all secured windows required to be operable shall be so without the requirement of keys or specialized knowledge

The next component and commonly asked question is the height of the bedroom ceiling. A sleeping room shall:

  1. have a minimum floor area of 8 m² and a minimum ceiling height of 1.95 meters;
  2. have a minimum floor area of 5 m² per occupant, where occupied by more than one person; and
  3. not serve any other uses such as a lobby, hallway, closet, bathroom, laundry room, stairway, kitchen or service room.

More Information

Want to learn more about converting a basement? Have questions about what zone you’re in? Interested in buying a potential income property? You can reach out to us here. We are always happy to help!