Turn Your Ottawa Basement Into An Income Suite

ottawa basement income suites

Do you want to make extra money? Perhaps you’d like to fund other home renovation projects like updating your master bathroom. Renovating your basement and turning it into an income suite is the perfect way to go. Especially if you want to have more cash in your wallet.

An income suite that you can lease or AirBnB is a great solution to your unfinished basement. Increase your monthly income by adding an income suite. An Income Suite is a secondary unit that is in the primary house. An income suite must have its own entrance, living space, kitchen, and bathroom. Income suites can increase your home’s resale value.

Renovating your Ottawa basement to create an income suite can be a complex undertaking.  It may involve structural changes, considerable labour, updated plumbing & electricity, and often some foundation work. Regardless of the amount of work required to make your basement into a legal income suite, the investment is always worth it. Our team of Ottawa eavestrough professionals at Mentor Homes can help you navigate from the planning phases to the construction and even renting your income suite.

What are the benefits of an Ottawa Income Suite?

If you’re a homeowner, you bought a home for a reason. Like most homeowners, you were tired of paying rent and giving your money to someone else. This logic is exactly why having an income suite can help you leverage the residual value in the unused space on your property. If you bought a home with a basement, and you’re not using it. Why not turn it into the perfect income property?

With an Income Suite, you can:

  • Pay your mortgage off faster
  • Get a faster return on your investment; it may take 2 years to make a return on the investment you put into your income suite back.
  • Gain extra income

If you don’t like the idea of having a long-term guest. Income suites are also great for hosting guests for longer periods of time or leasing out 6 months at a time. Don’t think that you have to commit to a year or 2 of someone on your property. It’s your home, do what works for you and your family.

If you want to turn your basement into an income suite we have a few suggestions that will increase your return on investment and marketability of your new secondary dwelling unit

Must Have Income Suite Features:

  • Your basement needs enough space for dining-in, desk-work, lounging/hosting, sleeping, meal prepping, storage, hygiene etc. A space doesn’t have to be huge to be comfortable. Just have a layout that makes sense. Try making dual-purpose spaces like: a kitchen & top bar, bathroom & laundry room, or pantry & storage. Get creative and maximize the space you already have.
  • An income suite should have it’s own independent heating and cooling system. This will save you and your future tenant lots of time and headaches. Your tenant will be able to have full control over their home and bills.
  • In order for your income suite to be livable. It needs a kitchen with an electric stove, sink, and microwave. Try adding a few touches like a coffee pot or toaster. These may seem small but can make a big difference when leasing your income suit.
  • Having a full bathroom is not only great to have, but needed to make a profit from your basement. Income suites today are not only equipped with a full shower, but a bathtub as well. Don’t cheap out when it comes to getting the right quality materials for your bathroom. This is a big selling point and will not go unnoticed to renters.
  • Sharing the same entrance to your home isn’t ideal. Create an exterior entrance. Tenants can use this without disturbing you. A separate entrance is not only needed for safety reasons. It offers an extra sense of security too.

Ottawa Income Suite Regulations

Before you turn your basement into a secondary dwelling unit, there are a few regulations that you must follow. An income suite must abide by these rules in order to be deemed legal in Ottawa:

  • You will always need a building permit. There are a couple reasons this is important.
  • The most obvious one is that you will want to be sure that officials are able to sign off on the quality and code-compliance of the work being done. You will be making significant changes to the building.
  • The other reason is that sometimes (in fact almost always) you will need to have a “Change of Use” application approved for your new income suite in order to make it legal and recognized by the city. This will update the dwelling on file to show a separate dwelling unit which is important for reasons ranging from taxation to emergency services.
  • If you add up all the square footage of your existing floor space in your home and find the amount equal to or less than 40% – well that’s the maximum amount of square footage you’re permitted to change into an income suite. So if your home is 2200 square feet. Then you’re only permitted to create an income suite 880 square feet or less. UNLESS it’s a basement – if you’re converting your basement then there is no maximum square footage applied to limit your creativity.  GOOD NEWS RIGHT?
  • The new unit has to have separate and secure access from the ground floor or ground level that is not facing the street. So if you’re creating a basement income suite you have to create a side entrance or a lobby that has a shared front door between you and your tenant. You may not create a secondary front door. But then again why would you want to? Maintain the curb appeal and make the second entrance more subtle.
  • A maximum of one unit is permitted in a detached dwelling (that’s a building that doesn’t share any walls with neighbours) One unit is permitted in each half of a semi-detached building (that’s a building that shares one wall with a neighbour) and only one for the whole of a duplex dwelling (that’s a building that has one unit stacked on top of another but still is considered one property)
  •  The new unit has to be part of the same lot (or property in most cases unless you have a double lot) as your principal dwelling unit (your house basically). You can’t change the streetscape character facing the street or road that your home is located on. This is a bit of a grey area because there are applications you can make with the city to change streetscape if you really think it’s necessary but we advise against it if you want to avoid headaches. (the city loves paperwork)
  •  You don’t have to worry about adding a mandatory parking space with your unit. It is not required by the city. However if you want to add parking for your tenant that is not already part of your existing parking footprint, it can’t be in the front yard. So don’t even think about making that driveway wider. The city won’t have it.  But if you have a corner lot, the city might let you put another driveway on your other street side. Maybe. Possibly. We’ll see.
  • If you’re converting part of your attached garage into a secondary dwelling space (This application process can be a bit tricky with the city) then the city will allow you to include the square footage of that attached garage in the overall calculation for the gross floor area as you determine your maximum secondary unit size (remember…40%).

For more regulations on secondary dwelling units, click here.

Designing your Income Suite

An income suite shouldn’t be just a place for people to live and sleep. It should be a home which you would want to return tonight after night. It’s important that your income suit reflects your personal style and taste. All while giving your tenants the ability to make it their own.  Long and short-term tenants will appreciate a design that’s well thought out.

Consider these design tips when renovating your basement into an income suite:

Open Layout

An open layout is ideal for any basement income suite. Whether it’s a one-bedroom or studio apartment, an open layout will make any space appear bigger. Make sure to keep all bedrooms away from the main entrance of your income suite to ensure an open layout style. Keep your kitchen, living, and dining room to the front of your income suite, close to the entrance.

Make note that special fire-resistant drywall needs to be installed between your living space and the new secondary dwelling or income suite. This is part of the Ottawa Building Code requirements and will need to be taken into consideration at the preliminary stages of your design process.


The amount of bedrooms your income suite will have depends on the square footage of your space. If you want more than one bedroom, prepare to spend money on framing, drywall, and insulation. If you have a set budget, turn your income suite into a studio apartment. This will suffice until you have the available funds needed to add on to your income suite.

Also remember that bedrooms need to have windows that the tenant can exit through in the event there is a fire. This is part of the Ottawa Regulation Code for secondary dwellings.


A bathroom can make or break your income suite. Be certain that you have the correct plumbing system to turn your basement into an income suite. Every basement needs a sump pump to ensure dryness. Speak with a local plumber before any bathroom installation. Your income suite may have a limit to the number of bathrooms it can have due to the number of bedrooms. Get creative, if creating an on-suite works best for your space, do it. If you decide to turn your income suite into a studio, add a bathroom that makes sense to the layout. Save room with a stackable washer and dryer.

Laundry Room/Kitchen

If the laundry room is in your basement. Use that space for your income suite’s kitchen. This is the perfect place to have a kitchen since plumbing lines are already installed. Save room by adding a pantry where the boiler and furnace are.


With flooring comes a lot of responsibility. What you use your income suite for will determine what type of flooring is suitable for the space. If it’s a family with pets. Consider hardwood flooring or vinyl flooring that’s durable. Heated floors for your tenants are perfect for those cold winter months ahead. But, before you get started on the flooring to your income suit, you need to be sure your basement floor is prepared for the new surface. No Cracks or uneven areas. The last thing you want is an uneven floor. This can make laying down flooring difficult and costly.


This may seem small, but paint can and will go a long way. The right colour of paint will help seal the deal but don’t go crazy. Stay away from bold colours and accent walls. You don’t want your new tenant to have to repaint your income suite. Stay light and neutral – this is especially important in a basement space that typically has small windows.

Installing a Basement Door in your Ottawa Secondary Dwelling

If you’ve gotten this far in the article. It’s safe to say that you’re considering turning your basement into an income suite. But to make your basement into a livable apartment. You must add an entrance, an unobstructed exit for your tenants. Your tenants need a means for egress, in case of an emergency or fire. It’s important to assure the safety of not only your future tenants but the neighbors upstairs – you.

A separate entrance to your basement should be the first thing you install. Before any type of renovations begin. It’s critical that your contractors have a clear path of entry when working. This will save you both time and money, and keep dirty footprints off your floor.

Here’s what installing an entrance to your income suite looks like:

  • Wherever you want the entrance of your income suite to be. A hole must be dug to create an entryway. You will need to prepare for excavation of earth and disposal.
  • Cut any remaining concrete from inside and outside of  the home to complete the entryway. Depending on the age  of your home, cutting through walls may mean exposing asbestos. In this case, proper removal of asbestos is necessary.
  • Installation of proper drainage and sump pump.
  • Create a retaining wall and of course some steps. We always recommend covering this entrance with a roof if possible. This will help keep the entrance easy to maintain and force water away from the entrance.
  • Parge walls and prepare door frame
  • Install hand railings and if you don’t have a roof or enclosed system be sure to install railings to prevent people and animals from falling in. A gate at the beginning of your income suite’s doorway will add some extra charm to your income property

Adding Value To Your Home With An Income Suite

Before doing anything to your basement. Be certain you’re following the correct bylaws. Get the necessary permits that are required to turn your basement into an income suite. Your tenants will feel safe knowing that their home is legal and up to code. Hire an engineer or architect to ensure that your plans are up to code. You will need to present the correct plans before any permit is given.

The most important takeaway here is that you will make every cent of your investment back with premiums when you sell your property. A property with a legal income suite is valued proportionately higher than a property with just a finished basement.

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