Secondary suite

Secondary suite

Secondary suite is an urban planning term for an additional separate dwelling unit on a property that would normally accommodate only one dwelling unit. A secondary suite is considered "secondary" or "accessory" to the primary residence on the parcel. It normally has its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom and living area. Such a suite often is one of the following types:

  • A suite above a rear detached garage,
  • A suite above the main floor of a single-detached dwelling,
  • A suite below the main floor of a single-detached dwelling (a "basement suite").
  • A suite attached to a single-detached dwelling at grade, or
  • A suite detached from the principal dwelling (a "garden suite" or "guesthouse").

In many municipalities, secondary suites are illegal because they do not conform to the zoning or land use district the property is in, they have been developed without the proper permits, or they do not meet the local building code. However, some localities only prohibit the renting out of secondary suites, and allow occupation by a relative or guest, leading to the use of the term "mother-in-law" house or apartment. Local jurisdictions may have rules regarding allowing certain relatives to live there and rules about what, if any, rent may be charged.

Secondary suites can also be called accessory suites.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, they are called "Ohana Dwelling Units" or "Ohana Housing".[1] Ohana Dwellings in Hawaii were created in 1981 as a way to encourage the private sector to create more housing units (without government subsidy), preserve green fields (open space) and ease housing affordability.[2][3][4]

Secondary suites in Santa Cruz, California and many other parts of the United States (ie. County of Maui in Hawaii[5]), are called "Accessory Dwelling Units" or ADU's[6]

Dual occupancy is sometimes used to refer to the development of two dwellings on one allotment of land. They may be either attached (semi-detached) or detached.[7] The term is common in Australia.


Mother-in-law house

A mother-in-law house is a form of guest accommodation that may be either completely detached (a guesthouse) or attached to a primary residence. An attached mother-in-law house often involves some spaces shared in common with an attached primary dwelling. It may, for instance, have a separate bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, while sharing a living room and laundry facilities.

Mother-in-Law houses are sometimes abbreviated as MIL in internet or newspaper listings.

Mother-in-law apartment

A mother-in-law apartment is a small apartment accessory to a primary residence. Alternative names include "granny flat", "granny suite","in-law suite", and "accessory apartment", the first being used primarily in Australia and Britain, where it is the most familiar of these terms, but also in parts of the United States. Such apartments are frequently used to accommodate an elderly relative who is not capable of living on their own, but is not ready for a nursing home environment or other similar facility.

The apartment may or may not have a communicating door to the main house, but virtually always has a separate entrance and is usually not part of the original design. Many are located above the garage of the main house or as a separate building in the rear yard.


Government programs


The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation provides a financial assistance program to help Canadians create affordable housing for low-income seniors and adults with a disability within a secondary suite. The program is called the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) -- Secondary/Garden Suite. The maximum fully forgivable loan depends on the location of the property:

  • Southern Areas of Canada: $24,000/unit
  • Northern areas of Canada: $28,000/unit
  • Far northern areas: $36,000/unit

A 25% supplement in assistance is available in remote areas.[8]

British Columbia

The Housing Policy Branch of British Columbia's Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services published a guide for local governments to implement secondary suite programs called 'Secondary Suites: A Guide For Local Governments'[9]. The current issue is dated September 2005. The intent of the guide is to "help local governments develop and implement secondary suite programs". It also highlights good secondary suite practices as well as providing practical information to "elected officials, planners, community groups, homeowners, developers, and others interested in secondary suites". It states its objectives as follows:

  • Identify the benefits of secondary suites as a form of affordable housing, and encourage legalization of suites;
  • Identify the challenges and issues associated with secondary suites;
  • Highlight strategies local governments can use to design and implement secondary suite programs.



In Norway, particularly in the bigger cities, it is quite common to build separate adjoined smaller flats for renting out. The owner of the main flat will rent out the smaller adjoined flats.

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ City and County of Honolulu. "Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, (ROH) Section 21-8.20". Land use Ordinance. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  2. ^ "Ohana Housing Program Evaluation". Honolulu: Office of Information and Complaint, Sept. 1984.. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Lau, Questor. "Accessory dwelling units (ADU's) as a way to achieve affordable housing in Hawaii.". Honolulu, 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "Ohana Zoning a 5 year review". State of Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Maui County Zoning Code, Section 19.35". Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  6. ^ "City of Santa Cruz Accessory Dwelling Unit Program". Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Planning & Land Management, Territory Planning Branch (2002). "Dual Occupancy Review". Retrieved August 21, 2008 
  8. ^ Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) -- Secondary/Garden Suite
  9. ^

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