Toronto basement rental apartments – what you need to know

In Toronto, a second suite is a self-contained rental unit in a single-detached or semi-detached house. Most second suites are basement apartments. They have also been called “granny flats”, “in-law suites” and “accessory” apartments. The new by-law permits second suites in all single-detached and semi-detached homes throughout the City of Toronto with certain conditions. Toronto has prepared an information kit that provides easy-to-read information on how to create a legal second suite.

Although second suites often take the form of basement apartments, they can be located on an upper floor, or the back part of a house. In order for a second suite to be considered legal, the following must be met:

– residential zoning requirements
– property standards
– occupancy standards
– health and safety requirements
– fire and electric codes

If you’ve ever put in an offer on a property containing a second suite, you may have noticed that real estate agents frequently insert a clause stating that the “seller does not warrant the retrofit status of the basement apartment” to signify whether the basement unit is or is not fully “legal”. But in this context, the term “retrofit” only refers to fire code — one of the five requirements.

According to an article written by Toronto real estate lawyer Bob Aaron in March 2012, the provincial fire code is a subset of the Ontario building code. The building code applies only to the day the unit was constructed. Only the fire code is retroactive — and this gives rise to the term “retrofit”.

In 1994, the provincial government set new fire code rules with which all basement apartments, new and existing, must comply. A unit upgraded to comply with the fire code is called a “basement retrofit”. Compliance with the fire code involves four requirements: fire containment, means of escape, fire detection and alarms, and electrical safety. Once a unit has been inspected and any deficiencies corrected, the fire department will issue a retrofit certificate to verify compliance.

But a unit that has been fully retrofitted may still not comply with zoning, building code and other requirements.

Identifying whether a municipality’s bylaws permit basement apartments is also important when buying a house with a basement unit.

The building code, which prescribes minimum requirements for the construction of buildings, for the most part, applies only to the day the house was built, and not retroactively.

Electrical safety refers to the required inspection by the Electrical Safety Authority.

Buyers of houses with basement rental apartments should do their due diligence to investigate whether the unit does or does not comply with the fire code, building code, electrical safety requirements and municipal zoning by-laws.

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