The 5 Key Things That Make a Basement Apartment in Toronto “Legal”
Spoiler alert: yours probably isn’t.
“Seller and agent do not warrant retrofit” is something you’ll often see in the listing of a home with basement apartment. Why do we say that? It’s hard for Toronto real estate agents to know with 100% certainty that a home’s basement apartment was constructed in accordance with all the local fire codes, building codes, electrical safety authority regulations and zoning rules. Nearly 80% of Toronto’s basement apartments aren’t actually legal!
Does a home with a legal basement apartment have a higher reseale value than a home with an illegal one? The Toronto Realty Blog has a great analogy to answer that question: Imagine a semi-detached home with an illegal basement apartment was for sale for $1,200,000, and the exact same home next door was worth $1,300,000 with a legal apartment. Each home’s basement apartment can command $1,800 a month in rent. Would you pay the extra $100,000 to buy the home with the legal apartment?” It seems many Torontonians say no.
The 5 Key Things That Make a Basement Apartment in Toronto Legal:
It complies with Neighbourhood Zoning Rules
The first step to seeing if your home can have a legal basement apartment is to make sure basement apartments are allowed in your neighbourhood. You can do so by checking this Toronto zoning map. Houses must also be at least 5 years old to house a legal basement apartment.
It satisfies Toronto’s Municipal Property Standards
In Toronto, property owners are required to maintain their property according to the city’s Property Standards Bylaw. The Bylaw includes things like like room size minimums, pests and snow removal.
It meets Fire Code Requirements
To comply with Fire Code requirements the entire home has to have good “fire containment”. Typically there needs to be a 30-minute separation between the units so if a fire starts in the lower unit it will take longer than 30 minutes to spread to the upper unit. The home also needs to have good “means of egress” which refers to tenants being able to exit the building easily. Ideally each unit should have its own exit. Finally, all units must have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and pass an inspection from the Electrical Safety Authority.
It adheres to Building Code rules
To add a basement apartment you need to apply for a Building Permit before construction begins and pass an inspection at the end. Building Code rules for basement apartments include things like: basement ceiling height must be at least 6 feet 5 inches, the entrance door needs to be at least 32 inches by 78 inches, every bathroom needs a window or an exhaust fan, and the basement unit can’t be larger than the main unit — to name a few. Find a more complete list here.
It has a Certificate of Compliance
Once the basement unit complies with Neighbourhood Zoning Rules, has passed the fire and electrical inspections, is registered with Municipal Property Standards and meets Building Code requirements a Certificate of Compliance will be issued by the City of Toronto. Think of this like you’re golden ticket — it’s something only 20% of basement apartment owners in Toronto actually have!
If you want to know more about legal basement apartments, I’d encourage you to reach out to someone at the City of Toronto or to consult a professional architect who’s been thorough the process of legalizing a basement apartment before. - Andrew Dunn, Toronto real estate agent