Keith and Jennifer Souter stand in front of their carriage home in the Westhills neighbourhood in Langford. This home

Keith and Jennifer Souter stand in front of their carriage home in the Westhills neighbourhood in Langford. This home

HOMEFINDER: Looking for a suite deal? There’s many options

Income-helping secondary suites come in all shapes, sizes

Looking for a detached home but don’t have enough money to make it work?

For people considering becoming a landlord, there are numerous options around Greater Victoria for mortgage helper suite. The range of suites is as varied as the homes they are part of – they run from hastily converted basements to full-feature accommodation designed and built to the B.C. building code, a.k.a. “legal suites.”

In 2010, apartment dwellers Jennifer and Keith Souter found what they were looking for in the Parkdale section of the Westhills neighbourhood in Langford. The sprawling new development offered homes with various configurations of secondary suites.

“With the income suite we were able to look at a full single-family dwelling,” Jennifer says. “That was appealing, to be on our own and not have to be part of a strata.”

While the couple were thrilled to be building equity, the living situation was not ideal, she says. The Souters were upstairs while their tenants took the main floor.

“We have a dog and we were always worried that they might hear us. You’re always conscious of someone sharing that space,” she says.

They began looking for a housing setup that better suited their needs and found it – about 500 yards away. In July 2012 they moved into a coach house at Westhills, one with a suite above a detached garage.

“We almost never see our tenant, except at rent time,” Souter says. “We feel like we’re completely separate.”

Buying in a new neighbourhood tailored for all manner of families – from young people breaking into the market to couples needing close accommodation for elderly parents – is just one example of how to solve the need for a suite.

Realtor Kevin Sing has seen numerous such situations in his 14-plus years in the industry. While there is generally always some financial necessity to such transactions, he says, it’s not always about the mortgage helper.

“(Often) it’s about helping family,” he says, noting suite residents can be at either end of the age spectrum, from college-age children to elderly parents.

“It remains a pretty significant reason for looking for a home with a suite. Usually we’re looking for a nice suite, usually above ground.”

Regardless of the reasons for searching out homes with suites, buyers should ask their realtor about the municipality’s stance on secondary accommodation, Sing says.

Most jurisdictions have recognized the need for – and existence of – secondary suites as a way of providing affordable accommodation. And for the most part, non-registered suites are not a target for bylaw enforcement, Sing says.

“Parties and parking” remain the two most common reasons people renting out suites in neighbourhoods run afoul of bylaw enforcement officers. For buyers who need the rental income to help pay their mortgage, the legal status of a suite and the complaint history are worth asking about, he adds.

“If they’re relying on that income and their comfort zone is not to have to deal with a bylaw officer down the road, they probably should be looking at something that is legal or perhaps rethink their financial situation.”

As with homes themselves, location is important to tenants. “It’s good to be close to a bus route, say, no more than two buses into UVic or Camosun or Royal Roads (University),” Sing says. A short walk to amenities is also appealing.

While checking out prospective tenants is part of their due diligence, Souter enjoys the financial freedom the suite offers them. Not to mention the fact they’ve become part of a group of people in similar situations in the neighbourhood.

“I love it, all of our friends are there,” she says.