Legal Basement Apartment: The Definitive Guide

A basement apartment is a perfect way to make extra income or provide a place to live for a loved one. If you decide to turn your unused space into an apartment it is important to understand the legal obligations as both a landlord and a tenant. A legal basement apartment must meet size and fire code requirements as well as meet all the Ontario Building Code requirements of a traditional apartment such as electrical, plumbing, and sewer.

Here are some tips to ensure your basement apartment is legal.

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How can I add a legal basement apartment to my home?
Adding a second dwelling within your home may seem like a sound money move, however, it is important to follow the local municipal bylaws and zoning requirements. Consult with your local planning and building departments before starting any basement renovation project. There are several factors that should be considered first:

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  • Applicable municipal zoning requirements
  • Necessary building permits
  • Designing your unit to comply with the Ontario Building Code
  • Required building inspections during construction
  • Parking restrictions

Speak to a reputable architect or home builder to ensure any additional building requirements can be met. Not every home is designed to accommodate a second unit and additional construction may be required.

What are the Ontario Building Code guidelines for a legal basement apartment?

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Ontario Building Code guidelines will vary from region to region, but there are a few simple guidelines to follow when first planning your basement apartment:

  • Ceiling Height: In order to ensure your legal basement apartment meets the Ontario Building Codes, it must have a ceiling height of 1.95 metres over the floor area including the exits.
  • The age of your home: Most homes need to be at least one year old before a legal basement apartment can be added. Under the provincial Ontario Building Code, it is still considered a new building. Buildings that are older than five years old are considered an existing house and may not have to meet as many Ontario Building Code requirements.
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  • Location: Though the government allows for the building of a second unit on any floor of your home, a basement unit may require additional servicing such as additional fire exits and second entrances.
  • Unit Size: Not all spaces are large enough to accommodate a legal basement apartment. Any changes may require a rezoning of your property, so consult with your municipal building department. The province outlines specific living area guidelines to ensure the safety of tenants.
Living area13.5 m2 (145 ft2)
Dining area7 m2 (75 ft2)
Kitchen4.2 m2 (45.2 ft2)
Combined living, dining and kitchen areas in a one-bedroom unit11 m2 (118.4 ft2)
Master bedroom (without built-in closet)9.8 m2 (95 ft2)
Other bedrooms (without built-in closets)7 m2 (75 ft2)
BathroomSufficient space for sink, toilet and shower stall or bath
Combined sleeping, living and dining areas and kitchen space13.5 m2 (145 ft2)


Is it legal to have a kitchen in the basement?

You want your tenants to enjoy all the comforts of home. This includes a kitchen area to cook meals. The kitchen space is legal in a basement provided it meets the size guidelines outlined by the province and local Ontario Building Codes. Remember a kitchen requires heavy use of electricity. All outlets must be up to code and be able to handle the power requirements. Any electric work will require additional permits to ensure safety.

Does a legal basement apartment need two exits?

Though a second exit is not specifically required for a legal basement apartment, there must be a safe and easily accessible exit in case of an emergency.
This may include a common exit that contains smoke alarms that are interconnected to both units. Any unit that requires the exit of one unit through another must also have the option of a window escape. This window must be large enough for a person to fit through without the use of tools.

Is it legal to have a bedroom in the basement?

Many homes already have a bedroom in the basement. But when it comes to having tenants in your home, there are additional guidelines that must be followed. The most important rule requires that a basement apartment that has a bedroom must also have a window to the outside.

A legal basement apartment is a great way to help pay a mortgage or provide peace of mind by having a loved one close to you. By making sure all these guidelines are met you will guarantee your basement apartment is legal.