Secondary Suites in the Comox Valley

Sometimes referred to as an in-law suite, a mortgage helper, or a built-in revenue opportunity, secondary suites have a strong appeal for many home buyers. If this is true of you, it’s important to know the legalities of secondary suites before you plan to build or buy a home in the Comox Valley.


The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) Planning and Development Services is the agency responsible for preparing plans and policies for land use throughout the region. Their recommendations are then considered by the CVRD Board of Directors. Within the Comox Valley Regional District, the municipalities of Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland each have their own zoning bylaws, which regulate how land is used including the use of secondary suites. Because the land zoning designation changes from one municipality to another, it’s important to do some homework to ensure tenant safety and avoid disappointment.

Secondary Suites in the Comox Valley
Secondary suites are legally defined as ‘accessory dwelling units’ or ADU’s, which are completely self-contained apartments within an existing residence. These are commonly used to generate a second income, or to provide privacy for one or more of the building tenants. The legality of including a secondary suite really depends on which town or city the dwelling is in. For example, in the city of Courtenay, the zoning is designated as ‘R2’, which means it is legal to have secondary suites built into the overall framework of a dwelling. In the town of Comox, secondary suites are legal, but at least one of the suites must be occupied by the actual owner. Another regulation specific to the town of Comox is the requirement of having a suite be 40% of the dwelling’s total square footage, which means the area on the first floor must not be equal to the area on the second floor.

Illegal Suites
If a secondary suite is declared illegal in a Comox Valley development, it’s typically the result of an unintentional oversight by builders or architects. When this happens, there are often several alternatives which can be adopted to bring the building back into code, and to have it considered acceptable.

The first step is to have a building inspector visit the premises to personally review the entire building, and then provide you with recommendations for bringing the dwelling up to the legal code. If it would be too costly to make the necessary renovations, or to implement some other solution, the only remaining option is to de-commission the suite for use as a separate residence.

Purpose of Zoning Bylaws
The main purpose of building permit laws in the Comox Valley region is to provide homeowners with regulations that ultimately ensure the safety of tenants. Included in those aims are the following:
 Fire egress
 Number of smoke detectors

 Exit routes from the property

Once a dwelling is considered by the owner to be occupant-ready, it must first be inspected by local authorities to gain the official seal of approval. If the dwelling passes inspection, an Occupancy Permit will be issued. You then have documentation that the suite is deemed suitable as a residence and as the owner or complex manager, you would be free to advertise and seek tenants to occupy the residence.

Do you have more questions? We’d be happy to answer any other questions you have about including a secondary suite in your plans. Contact us today!