Legal Basement Apartment: The Definitive Guide

What Is a Legal Secondary Suite?

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There have been recent adjustments to the definition of a legal secondary suite by the province of Ontario. These new guidelines allow for a broader definition of what constitutes a secondary suite and lifts some of the restrictions on what types of dwellings can house them.

The City of Toronto recognizes a secondary suite as a self-contained living accommodation for an additional person or persons living together as a separate single housekeeping unit, in which both food preparation and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the suite, located in and subordinate to a dwelling unit.

How Much Does It Cost To Convert A Basement Into An Apartment?

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The cost of converting a basement into an apartment can vary depending on the number of improvements and building guideline updates that are required.

Homeowners can expect to have to cover the cost of:

Building permits – a basic permit in the City of Toronto costs $198.59. An additional hourly fee of $85.79 per hour is charged for examination and inspection activities.

Building code upgrades – Homes must meet the provincial and municipal fire and building code standards. This may include the addition of exits, windows, and fire escapes.

Renovations costs – the average renovation costs approximately $100 to $200 per square foot.

Things To Remember When Creating A Basement Apartment

Adding a secondary suite is not a simple renovation. If you are going to use this space for renters, you must meet all the guidelines set out by your city and province.

Renovating your space may require several things including:

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  • Changes to the zoning requirements and standards for second units that apply to your property. This includes rules around parking requirements, exits and entrances, servicing or minimum or maximum unit size
  • whether you need to apply for rezoning or a minor variance
  • any other applicable agreements and approvals that are required before you can add a second unit
  • whether your second unit will need to be licensed or registered with your municipality.

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.

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.

How to Make a Basement Apartment Legal?

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:

A secondary suite is essentially a home within a home. This means a second set of appliances and the additional risk for things like fire or carbon monoxide.

The Ontario Fire Code requires that all secondary units meet a strict list of standards including:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fire Separator – A fire separation between your second unit and the rest of the house. A fire separation can be a floor, wall, door with a self-closing device. The fire separator must provide 30 minutes of protection. A fire separation can be reduced to 15 minutes if the entire house has interconnected smoke alarms.
  • Smoke alarms – Smoke detectors are required on every level of your home, including secondary units. It must meet the CAN/ULC S531 performance standard. The alarm must also have a flashing light when activated. Smoke alarms must be located outside sleeping areas, in bedrooms and common areas.
  • Carbon Monoxide Alarms – Most fire codes require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors. Additionally, carbon monoxide alarms are required if your home uses natural gas, propane or other similar fuels. They are also required if your house has an attached garage. Just like with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors must be located near bedrooms and sleeping areas as well as in the furnace room.
  • Fire Exits – Your secondary suite must have a safe and alternative exit. Depending on the layout of your home, this exit may have to be a separate door from the primary unit. It can also be a common exit if both units have full access to this door and there is a 30-minute fire separation between the two units. If the exit leads from one unit to another, then a window is required.
  • Windows – Windows must be large enough for a person to fit through in the event of an emergency. Consult with your local building official for exact measurements.

It’s important to remember that a secondary suite is not simply a guest room.

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It must meet all the regulations of your city and province. It must also meet at the legal requirements set out by the Landlord and Tenant Board. This means providing all the provisions such as access to water, hydro and sewer.

At a minimum, you will need to provide

  • a hot and cold water supply
  • a sink, bathtub or shower, toilet, or a drainless composting toilet in the bathroom
  • a kitchen sink
  • access to laundry facilities, which may be provided in a shared laundry room or a separate laundry area in the second unit

There are also legal limits on the number of people you can have living in a secondary suite. Most legal guidelines dictate that there can only be 2 adults per bedroom in any dwelling.

Living area 13.5 m2 (145 ft2)
Dining area 7 m2 (75 ft2)
Kitchen 4.2 m2 (45.2 ft2)
Combined living, dining and kitchen areas in a one-bedroom unit 11 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)
Bathroom Sufficient space for sink, toilet and shower stall or bath
Combined sleeping, living and dining areas and kitchen space 13.5 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.

How do I know if my basement apartment is legal?

Before beginning any renovation project, consult with your contractor. This person will be able to set out the changes and adjustments that need to be made in advance of your renovation.
Once the renovation is complete, a building inspector will review the work to see if any additional improvements or upgrades are required.
Once they sign off on the work and you meet all the building and fire code requirements, you will have a legal secondary unit.

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.

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