When looking at houses, my clients will often ask me, “Would we be allowed to build a carriage house on this property?”

A “carriage house” is a detached garage with a dwelling unit above it, but the term is also used more loosely to refer to any secondary suite in an accessory building (a building that is DETACHED from the main dwelling).

In this article, I will go over the BASIC requirements needed for adding a carriage house in Nanaimo. This should obviously not be used as a definitive source for evaluating how the regulations will apply in any specific case!


No secondary suites (detached or not) are permitted to have more than 2 bedrooms or more than one kitchen. A manufactured/mobile home may not be used as a suite.

Suites in accessory buildings were only legalized in Nanaimo in 2008, via an addition to the zoning bylaws. According to the bylaw, detached suites are only permitted when:

  1. No secondary suite exists within the principal dwelling (lots over 1 acre MAY be exempt); AND
  2. A minimum of 30 square meters (323 sqft) of private outdoor space is provided for the suite; OR
  3. The lot is a corner lot, OR is accessed by a laneway, OR is greater than 800 square meters (8611 sqft) in area.

You are also not permitted (usually) to have a secondary suite (detached from the main house or not) if your property is already being used for a secondary purpose (e.g., home based business, bed & breakfast, etc.).


In order to have a secondary suite, a dwelling must include additional off-street parking for the purpose. Two parking spaces are required for the principal dwelling, and another space is required for the suite. The parking space for the suite is NOT allowed to be included in the 30 square meters of private outdoor space allotted for the suite.


There is also a requirement that, if the suite is in an “accessory building” (buildings separate from the principal dwelling), it is only permitted if the total size of all accessory buildings on the lot will not exceed 13% of the lot area – to a maximum of 90 square meters (969 sqft). In other words, if you already have a 10x10 shed on the property, then the accessory building containing your suite can not be larger than 869 sqft. (Or even smaller, if your lot is less than about 7350 sqft in area.)

However, if your suite is part of a carriage house, you can have an additional 42 square meters (452 sqft) of floor area if it’s used for parking, IF there is no garage or carport within the principal dwelling.


The foundation of your accessory building (with the suite) must be at least 3 meters from the foundation of the principal dwelling.

The 30 square meters of private outdoor space allotted for the suite CAN be within setback areas.

The front porch of the detached suite MAY project into setback areas (but not two such porches).

Posted by Gerry Thomasen on
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