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How to Make a Basement Suite Legal in Ontario: Your Questions Answered

Basement suites are becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. Not only do they provide rental income to landlords, but they’re also a more affordable place to live for tenants. Whether you want to create a basement suite or rent one, it’s important to keep in mind that there are certain legalities to consider. In Ontario, you need to follow specific guidelines to ensure your basement suite is legal, or you may end up suffering some serious consequences.  

Keep reading for 10 questions and answers that will help. 

What Is a Legal Basement Suite?  

In Ontario, a legal basement suite refers to a second dwelling unit that meets the Ontario Building Code requirements for secondary units, local municipal zoning bylaws, and the Ontario Fire Code. It must also have the Electrical Safety Authority Certification. Within each standard, there are several requirements that must be met in order for your basement suite to be considered a “legal” dwelling. 

Legal vs. Illegal Basement Suites: What’s the Difference? 

The difference between a legal basement suite and an illegal basement suite usually comes down to having the proper permits and meeting building codes, fire codes, electrical codes, and local zoning bylaws. A legal basement suite must also be registered with your local municipality in most cases. 

Illegal suites are those that are in violation of any of the required codes or haven’t been registered with your local municipality. If a basement suite is built in an area where secondary suites aren’t permitted, that would also be considered an illegal dwelling. 

Can I Rent Out an Illegal Basement Suite? 

Renting out illegal basement suites happens across the province, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. As a landlord, you are responsible for compliance with local bylaws and all other requirements of having a legal basement suite in your home. If you are found to be in violation, you may be looking at hefty fines by the province or municipality or even possible lawsuits. 

What Are the Fines for Operating an Illegal Suite in Ontario? 

If you are caught operating an illegal suite in Ontario, you can face fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for corporations. A landlord may be given the opportunity to bring the unit up to code and apply for a permit before a fine is issued, but it’s not possible to continue renting the unit as-is without taking the necessary steps to make it a legal dwelling. 

What Are the Requirements For a Legal Basement Suite? 

There are a number of requirements that must be met to have a legal basement suite in Ontario. These include: 

  • The principal residence must be at least 5 years old 
  • The house needs to be either detached or semi-detached in most cases 
  • The second suite must be smaller than the rest of the house 
  • The second suite must be self-contained with its own entrance, kitchen, and bathroom 
  • The suite must comply with local by-laws 
  • The suite must pass all inspections and comply with the Ontario Building Code 
  • The suite must meet all electrical safety codes after an inspection by the Electrical Safety Authority (grounded electrical plugs, GFCI outlets, etc.) 
  • The suite must comply with the Ontario Fire Code (adequate fire separation between units, appropriate means of escape, proper fire alarms, etc.) 

How Do I Register My Secondary Suite?  

To register your secondary suite, you will need to apply for and receive a building permit from your local building department. You’ll need to submit the application with any supporting documents that are required by your municipality, including construction drawings. It’s also important to check to see if your municipality requires a licensed contractor to do the work. After approval of the permits, you can go ahead and build the suite, then you’ll need the necessary fire, building and electrical inspections to ensure it’s legal and ready to be lived in. 

What Makes a Legal Basement Bedroom in Ontario? 

For a basement bedroom to be legal in Ontario, it must follow all the same codes and regulations as the rest of a basement suite. In addition, there are some specific guidelines that must be followed. They are required to have ceilings at least 2100mm (6’11”) high over the entire area or 2300mm (7’ 7”) over at least 50% of the space but no less than 1950mm (6’ 5”) under beams and ducts. The glass part of the windows must be a minimum of 5% of the floor area of the bedroom, and you must be able to open the windows. 

Is it illegal to Have a Full Kitchen in the Basement? 

It is legal to have a full kitchen in the basement, provided you obtain all of the necessary permits and comply with the Ontario Building Code and Ontario Fire Code. A basement suite you intend to rent must have a kitchen, and if you plan on using your basement kitchen for personal use, an inspector may consider it a second dwelling, in which case all of the requirements of a secondary suite apply. In some municipalities, you can apply for a zoning variance to have your kitchen and still keep it a single-family home, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved. 

Is it Illegal to Finish a Basement Without a Permit? 

Every basement that’s going to be finished requires a permit before work commences. If you fail to get the proper permits, you will face consequences that may include fines, or you might have to dismantle everything you’ve done to that point. This may include removing walls, ceilings, cabinets, and other finishes to determine if your work meets the building codes, fire codes, and electrical codes. 

How Do I Know if I Am Zoned For a Basement Suite?  

In Ontario, you can build a second unit in any area of your house, including the basement. Of course, your suite must comply with all the applicable fire codes, building codes, Electrical Safety Authority regulations, and zoning and housing standards by-laws to be considered legal. To be sure of what’s required, check the zoning bylaws of your local municipality before you get started.

Work With a Certified Contractor Today 

There’s no question that building a basement suite in your home can be a complex situation that’s tricky to navigate. A builder/certified contractor can help you with all the legalities, and Baeumler Approved can help you find the right contractor to meet your needs. Find a professional through our approved network today! 

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