BCAB #1841

Last updated on April 3, 2020

March 19, 2020

Re: Dwelling Unit/Suite Definition

Project Description

The project is two storey house with self-contained cooking, eating, living, sleeping and sanitary facilities on each storey. The building has an internal stairway connecting the upper and lower storeys which provides unrestricted access to both storeys.  The floor/ceiling assembly between the storeys is not constructed as a fire separation.

Applicable Code Requirements

Definitions of dwelling unit and suite in Sentence and excerpt from Note A- of Division A of the British Columbia Building Code 2018.

Dwelling unit means a suite operated as a housekeeping unit, used or intended to be used by one or more persons and usually containing cooking, eating, living, sleeping and sanitary facilities.

Suite means a single room or series of rooms of complementary use, operated under a single tenancy, and includes dwelling units, individual guest rooms in motels, hotels, boarding houses, rooming houses and dormitories as well as individual stores and individual or complementary rooms for business and personal services occupancies. (See Note A-

Note A- Defined Terms.


Tenancy in the context of the term “suite” applies to both rental and ownership tenure. In a condominium arrangement, for example, dwelling units are considered separate suites even though they are individually owned. In order to be of complementary use, a series of rooms that constitute a suite must be in reasonably close proximity to each other and have access to each other either directly by means of a common doorway or indirectly by a corridor, vestibule or other similar arrangement.

The term “suite” does not apply to rooms such as service rooms, common laundry rooms and common recreational rooms that are not leased or under a separate tenure in the context of the Code. Similarly, the term “suite” is not normally applied in the context of buildings such as schools and hospitals, since the entire building is under a single tenure. However, a room that is individually rented is considered a suite. A warehousing unit in a mini-warehouse is a suite. A rented room in a nursing home could be considered as a suite if the room was under a separate tenure. A hospital bedroom on the other hand is not considered to be under a separate tenure, since the patient has little control of that space, even though he pays the hospital a per diem rate for the privilege of using the hospital facilities, which include the sleeping areas.

For certain requirements in the Code, the expression “room or suite” is used (e.g., travel distance). This means that the requirement applies within the rooms of suites as well as to the suite itself and to rooms that may be located outside the suite. In other places the expression “suite, and rooms not located within a suite” is used (e.g., for the installation of smoke and heat detectors). This means that the requirement applies to individual suites as defined, but not to each room within the suite. The rooms “not within a suite” would include common laundry rooms, common recreational rooms and service rooms, which are not considered as tenant-occupied space.

Decision being Appealed (Local Authority’s Position)

The local authority has determined the subject house contains two dwelling units (suites), and that an appropriate fire separation is required between them.

Appellant's Position

The appellant maintains that house is being used as a single family dwelling as only family members occupy the house. One owner lives in the lower storey of the house and the second owner lives with extended family in the upper storey, and they all have unrestricted access to both storeys.

Appeal Board Decision #1841

It is the determination of the Board that subject house in its present use is considered to be one dwelling unit as a single suite.

Reason for Decision

The BC Building Code does not incorporate or reference the term “single family dwelling”. The Building Code does not restrict whom or the number of occupants in a dwelling unit. The BC Building Code does not limit the number of facilities within a dwelling unit or single suite. The Building Code Appeal Board acknowledges Local Governments may have authority to establish bylaws that regulate these matters.

The fundamental premise the Building Code uses in establishing whether a portion of a building is a separate suite is that of tenure. If a portion of a building is under separate and individual control from other portions of the building, it is considered to be a separate suite as there is separate tenure from other parts of the building.

In the subject Appeal, all occupants of the building have unrestricted access to all parts of the building and its cooking, eating, living, sleeping and sanitary facilities. There is no separate tenure or individual control to the upper and lower storeys. The building is intended to be used as a single suite.

Further, the Board acknowledges the intentions of future owners cannot be determined which could result in the building having multiple suites.

Lyle Kuhnert

Chair, Building Code Appeal Board