Basement Apartments/Second Suites are now legal in Toronto
"Cash cow or legal headache?"
For many years the legal status of basement apartments, flats and other accessory residential units which have been added to houses has been unclear. Many municipalities passed zoning by-laws prohibiting these types of apartments in houses. Nevertheless, many thousands of basement apartments and other accessory rental units were constructed. Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 illegal units were in use across the province in 1993.
In 1994 the N.D.P. government proclaimed Bill 120 the Residents Rights Act. This Bill permitted second units in houses, regardless of Municipal Zoning, provided that Health and Fire safety standards were met. The Ontario Fire Marshal's Office proclaimed Ontario Regulation 385/94 in July of this same year. (retrofit section dealing with Two Unit Residential Occupancies). These two pieces of legislation both mandated the permissibility of, and the safety requirements for Basement Apartments in Ontario.
On November 26, 1995 the new Conservative government introduced Bill 20 restoring back to municipalities the right to outlaw Basement Apartments. This in effect drove these second units back underground. Owners feared prosecution from not only safety authorities, but also local zoning regulations.
Units built prior to November 16, 1995 are grandfathered:
If the unit existed prior to this date (November 16 1995) it was grandfathered, provided it met health and fire standards. The onus is on the owner to prove that this is in fact the case and can be accomplished through the production of rent receipts, presence of tenants on voters list or in some cases the signing of an affidavit for the municipality.
Toronto's Second Suites By-law
On July 6, 2000, the City of Toronto's new "second suites bylaw (493-2000)" came into effect. This bylaw permits second suites in all single-detached and semi-detached houses throughout the City of Toronto, with certain conditions.
Some of the conditions include:
- the second suite must be self-contained with its own kitchen and bathroom;
- the house, including any additions, must be at least five years old;
- the floor area of the second suite must be smaller than the remaining part of the house;
- in most cases, a home with a second suite must have at least two parking spaces;
- all existing second suites must comply with the Ontario Fire Code, zoning and property standards
In 2010, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 140: Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011. This bill required municipalities to implement official plan policies and zoning by-law provisions to allow basement suites in single family detached, semi-detached and some townhouses.
This Act came into effect on January 1st, 2012, without a deadline as to when each municipality needs to bring their planning documents to conform with the requirements of Bill 140.
Ontario Fire Code Information
Owners of houses containing two self-contained residential units (dwelling units) are now required to bring their buildings into compliance with the new fire safety regulation adopted under the Ontario Fire Code. Tenants in these buildings are entitled to ask their landlords to make sure that the fire regulations are met.
Some of these Regulations are summarized below.
1.0 What is a Dwelling Unit?
A dwelling unit is a room or suite of rooms operated as a self-contained housekeeping unit that includes independent cooking, eating, living, sleeping and bathroom facilities.
2.0 Buildings Covered by the New Fire Code Regulation?
The regulation applies to detached houses, and semi-detached houses, and row houses that contain two existing dwelling units. The two dwelling units may be located anywhere in the house.
3.0 What are the Requirements?
In general, the regulation contained in the Ontario Fire Code addresses four fire safety issues:
3.1 Fire separation
The owner has three options for compliance with the fire separation for each dwelling unit
3.2 Means of Escape.
Four options are provided for compliance with the means of escape from each dwelling unit.
3.3 Smoke Alarms
Depending on the option selected for fire separation and means of escape, it may be necessary to install electrically wired, interconnected smoke alarms throughout the house. Interconnected smoke alarms are designed to sound simultaneously when any one smoke alarm is activated, providing early warning to all occupants of the house at the same time.
Where interconnected smoke alarms are not installed, every dwelling unit must be equipped with a battery operated or electrically wired smoke alarm on every floor level that contains a bedroom or sleeping area.
All smoke alarms must be maintained in working condition, and they must be audible in the bedrooms when the bedroom door is closed.
3.4 Electrical Safety
The owner must also arrange for the house to be inspected by "the Electrical Safety Authority" and to correct all fire safety hazards identified through this inspection.
3.5 Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Carbon Monoxide alarms are required in buildings with fuel fired appliances OR attached garage.
These carbon monoxide alarms are to be located outside sleeping areas.
4.0 Who is Responsible For Complying With the Regulation?
The owner is responsible for complying with the provisions of the Ontario Fire Code. Penalties for non-compliance can be up to $50,000 fines and up to one year in prison for individuals.
Owners should be aware that bringing existing houses into compliance with the new regulation may require repairs or alterations for which a building permit is needed under the Building Code Act.
How Do I Bring My House Into Compliance?
- The owner can carry out the initial assessment to determine what upgrading may be required.
- An Independent Fire Code Consultant can assist you with an assessment and advise you on the best means of attaining compliance.
- The Municipal Building and Fire Departments should be contacted, once this initial assessment is done, to obtain the necessary permits and arrange for required inspection where appropriate.
Added Income For You....
In closing, a basement apartment might be just what you need to provide the added income to make your dream purchase affordable, but beware of the pitfalls and remember that you as a purchaser assume all the liability of a home that doesn't comply, regardless of when you bought it.
The Fire Guy provides building compliance audits to assess, facilitate, implement, and maintain Ontario Fire Code and Retrofit compliance. We are Fire Code experts and our unique services provide building managers, and owners, with a thorough understanding of their responsibilities under the Fire Code. We serve all buildings regulated under the Ontario Fire Code. Many of our clients manage multi-dwelling residential, commercial and industrial buildings which require compliance assurance in general, as well as specific concerns. We will provide you with the quality of service you require in a timely fashion providing building owners and operators a wide range of fire prevention services and life safety requirements.
To Ensure Your Fire Code Compliance and Peace of Mind call The Fire Guy.
The Fire Guy is a Richmond Hill based firm serving the GTA and surrounding areas.