What you need to know about secondary suites and your home insurance

March 10th, 2015

Secondary suites have been a controversial topic in Calgary for a while now. In the city, there are thousands of legal and illegal suites in detached homes.

Common requirements for secondary suites:

  • Minimum ceiling height 1.95m
  • Each bedroom in the secondary suite must have at least one window for emergency escape in the event of a fire
  • Must provide smoke separation between a secondary suite and main dwelling unit.
  • Must have interconnected fire alarms between secondary suite and main dwelling unit
  • Gas-fired furnaces and water heaters need to be enclosed in a room with ½-inch drywall
  • Secondary suites must be served by an independent heating and ventilation system

 One other requirement we would add to the list:

  • Let your insurer know about your secondary suite.

Whether your secondary suite is legal or illegal, it’s important to let your insurer know. There’s a common misconception that an existing policy will cover a suite but it doesn’t. If a homeowner fails to let the insurer know about the suite, they open themselves up to significant risk and the possibility that in the event of a claim, the insurance company can deny coverage and void the existing insurance policy.

e.g.: Family A has not told their insurance company that they have an occupied secondary suite. Tenants in the secondary suite accidentally cause a fire that destroys the entire home.

In this situation, the insurance company can completely deny coverage.

e.g.: Family B has told their insurance company that their home has an occupied secondary suite. Tenants in the secondary suite accidentally cause a fire that destroys the entire home.

In this situation, historically the insurance company will follow through with coverage. It’s not the concern of the insurance company whether the suite was legal or illegal, they only need to be aware of its existence.

It’s also advised that landlords put an insurance clause in any contract with tenants. That is to say that a tenant must have adequate insurance if they’re renting a secondary suite. A landlord should do his/her due diligence to ensure that the tenants insurance is up-to-date. Another way to protect your home and secondary suite is by purchasing comprehensive rental insurance that can cover vandalism and damage by tenants.

To learn more, ask one of our insurance experts.

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