Make your home pay

Build a self-contained suite in your home for added income

By Jay Somerset

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Besides gaining clearance from the fire department, homeowners should also seek certification from the local electrical authority. “We look at the breakers, conductors, kitchen outlets, lighting–all the basics,” says Ted Olechna, provincial code engineer for the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) in Ontario. The ESA is a provincial regulatory body for the electrical industry (other provinces have similar organizations; and some are municipal).“Homeowners adding a secondary apartment don’t always realize the electrical work involved, such as installing kitchen appliances with splits and receptacles-but these are necessary for any dwelling.”

An ESA inspector conducts a general inspection if the suite pre-exists the current legislation (if it’s been operating as a secondary suite since 1994). If the suite is brand-new, the inspector applies the building code, which is much more rigorous. “It’s the homeowner’s responsibility, or whomever is installing the electrical, to contact us and have the work inspected,” says Olechna.

Groups similar to the ESA across the country all have comparable set-ups. The codes themselves are very similar and the demands are pretty much the same in all the provinces.

Being a landlord

“The homeowner has to get into the mindset that this is a business and approach the rental agreement with business savvy,” says Wankiewicz, who fields more than 10,000 questions a year from landlords through the Landlord’s Self-Help Centre. “Landlords don’t screen potential tenants enough. Check the tenants’ references and call their previous landlords.” Besides payment problems, landlords should educate themselves on the Landlord Tenant Act. “There are a lot of misunderstandings with rental properties. Leases, for example, aren’t necessary. And the belief that you can’t evict in winter is also false.”

The Landlord’s Self-Help Centre’s website provides detailed information for landlords-from tips on screening potential tenants to the legalities of building and operating a secondary suite. Also included is a detailed fact sheet on the benefits of a secondary suite from a tax perspective, giving the rate of return. “In most cases, having a secondary suite doesn’t affect property taxes, unless we’re talking about a large addition. But if you’re simply converting existing space, you won’t see a rise,” says Wankiewicz.

Being a landlord can be stressful, so it’s crucial to remember that it’s a choice. “A friend of ours suggested we put a pool table in the basement because we play a lot of pool,” says Anton. “I thought it was a great idea until Selda put a twist on the idea. ‘Imagine,’ she said, ‘if we bought a house without a basement and rented the neighbour’s basement for $600 a month. The additional living space wouldn’t be worth the $600 a month. We have plenty of space already.’

“Why would we waste the space on a pool table when we could use the extra income? There’s a lot more we can do with that $600.”

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