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Basement Suites in the Lethbridge Real Estate Market

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For many years, illegal and non-conforming basement suites have been the bane of many real estate transactions and mortgage applications.  The City of Lethbridge has tried to deal with the situation several times in the past few decades, at one time allowing suites that were in existence before 1969 to remain in their non-conforming condition and making exceptions onf suites which were constructed after 1969.


As 2008 drew to a close, a new fire code amendment required all existing basement suites to be improved to meet a minimum safety level including smoke and fire detectors, proper egress windows on all bedrooms, free access to exits from the suite, and containing all HVAC systems behind moderately fire retardant walls.

To the bestof my knowledge, most landlords made no effort to comply.

A recent house fire in Calgary this past week is certain to bring this issue to the front page of the newspaper and encourage more discussion in the community and City Council chambers.


Now, a new grant program eliminates all excuses for a landlord to fail to improve the conditions of their properties and comply with the fire code.  Here is a recent article which details the grants.


City to offer incentives for secondary rental suite safety upgrades

Written by Gerald Gauthier   
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The City of Lethbridge will soon be offering cash incentives to encourage landlords to upgrade pre-existing secondary rental suites to comply with updated safety codes.
Grants of up to $2,500 could be available by spring to reimburse homeowners for improvements they make to suites in existence before 2007 within singe-family homes. The goal is to ensure such suites are safe for tenants and meet provincial fire and building codes.
A total of $260,000 has been set aside for the grant program, and an application process is still in the works, said Ald. Tom Wickersham.
In December, a new bylaw was enacted that makes compliant pre-existing suites a permitted use in residential areas where they previously required special permits from the city. The measures are part of a larger effort to address a critical shortage of affordable housing in Lethbridge.
Chief Fire Marshal Ken Knox said he hopes property owners with pre-existing secondary suites will see the benefits of complying with the new regulations and contact the fire prevention office to arrange for assessments of their rental units.
“If people have secondary suites and they don’t call us, they’re (effectively) saying they don’t want to get them to a level of life safety,” he said.
Safety inspections can be requested by property owners, tenants or owners’ agents such as property managers, realtors or lawyers.
A fire prevention officer will conduct a 16-point inspection, Knox said, but the focus will be on three critical elements: smoke alarms, unobstructed escape routes and bedroom windows at least 38 centimetres in width and height to serve as emergency exits. Heating and ventilation systems will also be checked. Once upgrades have been completed as required, the city will issue a permit making the suite legal.
In 2006, the province announced owners of pre-existing suites had until December 2008 to bring their properties into compliance with the new Alberta Fire Code.
The intent of the new fire code, he said, is to make it easier for owners to affordably achieve an equivalent safety level in pre-existing suites rather than insisting on strict conformance to the updated 2006 Alberta Building Code.
New suites in existing residential areas are still subject to an inspection and approval process, however, and must fully comply with building and fire codes.
Property owners who want to apply for the local grant once it becomes available are advised to keep receipts for materials and labour pertaining to suite improvements. To arrange a safety inspection, call 403-320-3811 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it More information is available at the city’s website



Robert May is a Realtor, as well as the broker and owner of Rainbow Realty of Lethbridge Alberta. He is also a licensed mortgage associate and financing expert with Canada First Mortgage of Calgary Alberta. He has been in the real estate industry since 1993 and offers full MLS real estate services to Lethbridge and surrounding area, as well as mortgage financing, refinancing/renewals, preapprovals, and home equity financing to Lethbridge and Southern Alberta. He can be found online at

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Robert W May is a Real Estate Broker in Lethbridge Alberta, having now been in the industry for over 23 years. . He was also a licensed Lethbridge mortgage broker and financing expert with Canada First Mortgage of Calgary Alberta for the past 10 years.  He is an industry leader always willing to help train and educate others in how to improve their business models for financial and personal benefit.



Comment balloon 6 commentsRobert May • January 29 2009 02:23AM


Robert, I can not see how they could not make them bring the suites up to code. It would seem to be dangerous.

Posted by Danny Thornton, WordPress Guru (R & D Art) over 9 years ago

It's unfortunate, but the only way the Fire Department and city will have any power to enforce the new bylaw is if the property owner or tenants renting the property come forward. And on questioning Alderman Wickersham about the grants, there has been no decision yet as to how the grants will be dispersed and no application form has been formulated. Such a lack of foresight! They will be discussed tonight at the city council meeting.

Posted by Liz Toles, Lethbridge Real Estate ( over 9 years ago

It is a real recipe for disaster.  I sure wish they would have used their heads in dealing with this issue which has been 40 years in the making.


ps. i am still waiting for you or Greg to take me out for lunch? :)

Posted by Robert May, Real estate consulting (Robert W May - Lethbridge Real Estate) over 9 years ago

In total agreement... you just name the time and place and we will gladly let you buy us lunch... with all the money you are making... it's a drop in the hat right : )

Posted by Liz Toles, Lethbridge Real Estate ( over 9 years ago

Bailout 2008, a poem by David Jeffrey

Like a bloodied warrior,
laying broken and torn.

Like a dying soldier, hopeless and forlorn.

But the blood, it be green,
the color of money.

And the soldier is an economy,
and it is anything but funny.

Broken are it's people and shattered are their dreams.

Thanks to the ultra rich and their full proof schemes.

It is a tragedy with more pain to come.

Finance will be Hell, and their wills will be done.

Posted by Ron over 9 years ago

Thanks to those who made comments.  Always glad to have feedback from industry members and from local friends.  lethbridge mortgage broker lethbridge real estate

Posted by Robert May, Real estate consulting (Robert W May - Lethbridge Real Estate) over 9 years ago

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