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The market for houses with basement apartments and other secondary suites is about to get a little hotter. CMHC has announced it will allow 100 per cent of the rental income from legal secondary suites to be used when qualifying for a mortgage. Currently it allows 50 per cent.
The nation’s largest default insurer says the move is meant to “facilitate affordable housing choices for Canadians.”
“Secondary rental suites are recognized as a source of affordable housing offered at a cost that is often lower than those for apartments in purpose built rental buildings,” it adds. Secondary/basement suites also give lower-income Canadians the chance to live in single-family residential neighbourhoods.
The new rule takes effect September 28, 2015.
“This is definitely good news for anyone who is looking to buy a home and subsidize the cost” with a renter, says Vancouver-based broker Peter Kinch, of DLC’s Peter Kinch Mortgage Team. “The ability to utilize 100 per cent of the rental income to qualify for the mortgage … can certainly make the difference for many homeowners and may move a larger number of homebuyers from condo purchases to a single-family home with a mortgage helper.”
Broker Marg Green, of Concierge Mortgage Group, agrees that “there will be a big demand for it,” but rightly notes that more clarity is needed on what CMHC considers a legal suite. “What is legal? Is it fire retrofitted? Is it registered with the city? If the suite isn’t legal, lenders generally won’t use the rental income (for qualification purposes).”
Here’s what we’ve gathered thus far, with respect to what’s required to use 100 per cent of suite income with CMHC:
- The property must be owner-occupied.
- The property being insured can have only two units (i.e., a duplex or a single home with a legal secondary suite).
- Rental income cannot be used if the suite is “illegal/non-conforming” but “legal non-conforming” is okay. (Non-conforming means that the suite was grandfathered in before zoning/regulations restricted such units. You can check with the city to confirm if a suite is legal.)
- The suite must be self-contained with its own entrance.
- Property taxes and heat must be factored into the borrower’s debt ratios (which is currently not the case when using rent from legal secondary suites).
- For existing units, there must be two-year history of rental income from the suite. The maximum rental income allowed for qualification is a two-year average of the unit’s rent.
- For new units, a market rent appraisal can be accepted if an appropriate vacancy rate has been applied to the estimated rental income.
- Mortgage applicants must “demonstrate a strong history of managing credit” with a minimum credit score of 680.
On three- to four-unit owner-occupied properties and one- to four-unit non-owner occupied rentals, CMHC will be allowing a net rents calculation (ie, gross rents less operating expenses).
Note that individual lender guidelines may very well be tighter than what you see above.
Genworth and Canada Guaranty have had a 100 per cent add-back policy for a while (for basement suites), but mainly in Victoria and Vancouver. CMHC’s new policy extends nationwide. Both private insurers say they’re reviewing CMHC’s changes and haven’t decided if they’ll match this guideline. We’ll bet that one or both of them will.
“In the big picture, I do not see that this will have a significant impact on the overall housing market,” says Kinch. “But in certain suburban areas, this shift in CMHC policy will help speed up a trend that is already taking place, and that is the widening price-gap between single-family and multi-family (condo, townhome) homes.”
Another broker, who didn’t want to be named, said the move could encourage more people to lie about owner-occupying a property (for example, say they’re living in one unit but renting out both units).
That minor unavoidable side-effect aside, CMHC deserves applause for trying to boost the stock of affordable rentals and allowing young homebuyers an alternative to condo living.