A garden suite — sometimes called a granny flat — is a self-contained dwelling without a basement. It is installed in the rear or side yard of a lot with an existing, permanent, single-family house.
Usually, a garden suite has a kitchen, living area, one or two bedrooms, bathroom and storage space (see Figure 1). Your municipality may have planning or zoning regulations governing garden suites. These regulations can set restrictions, such as distance from the permanent house, parking requirements, how long a garden suite can stay on a lot and the appearance of the garden suite.
Who Lives in a Garden Suite?
Garden suites are usually intended for individuals or couples over the age of 65 who can live independently, or for people with disabilities. The people living in the permanent dwelling — the host family — can provide the care and support to those living in the garden suite. The host family is usually the children, grandchildren or other close relatives of the garden suite occupants. Once the people designated to live in the garden suite move out, it is possible to apply to the municipality for another family member meeting the criteria to move in.
Garden suites provide affordable housing. They can be barrier-free and should be easy to maintain.
In 1989, the Ontario Ministry of Housing installed 12 garden suites in three municipalities as a demonstration project. The assessment of this and similar projects found that garden suites:
Allow the host family to provide support, companionship and security to the occupants of the garden suite all the while giving both households continued independence and privacy.
Provide a healthy and supportive environment that may enable occupants to continue to live independently longer.
May reduce demands on community services when the host family can provide support.
May provide financial gains when people who sell large houses move into garden suites.
Often do not alter neighbourhood character, as they are temporary.
The permanent home does not have to originally belong to the person or persons planning to move into the garden suite. A host family can install a garden suite on their property.
If the garden suite occupant is the owner of the permanent house, ownership of the house and the garden suite can be retained. Or, the owner may purchase, rent or lease a garden suite, move into it, and sell or rent the permanent house to a host family.
A provincial housing agency, a non-profit or co-operative housing organization, or a manufactured housing company can provide a garden suite, which the property owner can rent, lease or purchase.
The terms and conditions for the use and occupancy of a garden suite are contained in agreements, licences and permits involving the host family, the garden suite occupants, the supplier of the unit and the municipality. These documents deal with several matters, including the location of the garden suite; servicing; access; parking; building and zoning bylaws; eligibility of the occupants; design compatibility of the garden suite and host family dwelling; maintenance and repair obligations; removal of the garden suite; restoration of the property; and monitoring of use and occupancy of the garden suite.
Garden suites can easily be installed on large rural or urban lots with enough space to manoeuvre the unit into position in the side or rear yard. In cities, manoeuvring is easiest in corner lots or lots next to rear laneways.
In mid-block, or where yards are too small to bring in a garden suite in whole or in sections, a crane can lift the garden suite onto the property. Crane rental and insurance costs can be substantial.
Complying with the Codes and Standards
Garden suites must meet National Building Code of Canada requirements under the certification provisions of Canadian Standards Association (CSA) documents CAN/CSA-A277-01 for modular housing or panelized component housing, and CAN/CSA-Z240 MH Series 92 National Standard of Canada for mobile homes. These are consistent with provincial building codes.
It is possible to construct garden suites in place using conventional construction methods. Portable, factory-built garden suites are easier to install, remove and relocate than built-in-place suites.
Several companies in Canada manufacture one or more of the following types of housing that can be used for garden suites.
This type of housing is delivered on a flatbed truck as completed modules or boxes. Each module contains the roof, exterior walls with all insulation, plumbing and electrical work installed, as well as finished interior walls, floor coverings, cabinetry, mouldings and electrical and plumbing fixtures. Two or more modules can be joined at the construction site to form a completed house. A garden suite would typically not exceed two modules.
Like modular housing, these homes leave the factory as completed modules or boxes. Unlike modular housing, the mobile home modules are constructed on a lengthwise subframe (undercarriage) that ultimately forms a structural part of the foundation. Axle assemblies are attached to the subframe to move it from the factory to the home site. These units contain all of the components of modular housing and, in many cases, appliances and window coverings. A completed mobile home may be one mobile home or two joined together at the home site.
Panelized Component Housing
This housing is constructed from a series of factory-produced wall, floor and roof panels. The panels may be “closed” with insulation, wiring, vapour barrier, interior gypsum board and exterior sheathing installed at the factory. Panels may also be “open,” consisting only of the framing lumber or “closed one side,” consisting of exterior sheathing applied to the framing members as the panel leaves the factory. The “open” and “closed one side” panels are finished on site. Panelized component housing is easier to install on mid-block sites with restricted access to the rear of the property.
For more information about manufactured home companies across Canada, consult your telephone directory or visit these websites:
The Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute (June 2009)
Manufactured Housing Association of Atlantic Canada (June 2009)
Manufactured Housing Association of British Columbia (June 2009)
Modular Manufactured Housing Association of Alberta and Saskatchewan (June 2009)
Société québécoise des manufacturiers d’habitation (June 2009) — French only
A number of factors affect the capital cost, installation costs and operating costs of garden suites. They include:
type, size and design of the suite;
distance from the manufacturing plant to the installation site;
type of foundations, skirting and landscaping;
municipal connection to water and wastewater or hook-up to well and septic system;
municipal permit fees, levies, onetime development charges or licence;
municipal property tax;
removal and restoration costs;
if rented or leased, monthly fee and end-of-lease refurbishment charge.
Adjacent Property Values
Neighbours are sometimes concerned that a garden suite might devalue their property. Studies assessing garden suites show that they do not reduce the value of nearby properties. Interviews with neighbours show that garden suites do not interfere with their use and enjoyment of their property.
Municipal Taxation of Garden Suites
Most municipalities regard garden suites as property improvements, which increases the assessed value of the property — and property taxes — as long as the suite is in place. Some municipalities consider garden suites as chattel, since they are temporary. If so, the assessed value of the property is not affected. Instead, the unit is licensed and the municipality levies a licence fee.
Financial Assistance Programs
Some host property owners may be eligible for relief from increased property taxation under programs for improvements for an older person or a person with a disability who would otherwise need alternative accommodation. Garden suite occupants who meet the eligibility criteria may qualify for a property tax exemption under provincial programs for the disabled and seniors in the community.
Financial Assistance from CMHC
CMHC’s Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) offers financial assistance for the creation of secondary or garden suite for a low-income senior or adult with a disability — making it possible for them to live independently in their community, close to family and friends. Eligible clients are homeowners and private entrepreneurs owning residential properties that could create self-contained rental accommodation. Eligibility is limited to existing family residential housing properties where a self-contained secondary or garden suite is being created. The property must also meet the requirements of the authority having jurisdiction including zoning and building requirements.
IMPORTANT: Work done before the RRAP loan is approved is not eligible.
To find out more about CMHC assistance for garden suites under RRAP,
call 1-800-668-2642 or visit the following Web page:
Garden suites are self-contained dwelling units for seniors, dependants or people with disabilities. Upon approved zoning, and a building permit, a garden suite can be rented, leased or purchased, and installed in the rear or side yard of the lot of an existing single-family house. Occupants of the garden suite and the existing single-family house can benefit both financially and socially.
Depending on your situation and municipality, you may qualify for financial assistance to acquire a new garden suite or retrofit an existing one.
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