In 2018, the City of Toronto ushered in a remarkable change to the housing market by passing a bylaw permitting the construction of Laneway Suites. Since that time, the City has seen exponential growth in the demand for laneway suites.  Provided you live within the bounds of the area permitted by the City, a laneway suite could be good option for boosting your monthly income or providing extra space for family members.

Laneway Suites are permitted in neighbourhoods that are located within the Site and Area Specific Policy 546 area.

While progressive, the Bylaw permitting Laneway Suites contains strict rules about nature and location. Meeting these requirements can be both costly and time consuming, but will likely be a good investment in the long-term. Not only will you be able to rent out the suite, but also, depending on the size of your property footprint, you could build-in a garage or office.

If you are considering building a laneway suite, here are 5 questions you should ask yourself before getting started:

1. What is a Laneway Suite?

According to Amendment 403, the City of Toronto’s amendment to the city plan to allow Laneway Suites, a “Laneway Suite” is defined as:

“a self-contained residential unit, subordinate to a primary dwelling, in which both kitchen and bathroom facilities are provided and located on a lot within an ancillary building adjacent to a public laneway.

Given this definition, there are certain types of buildings that, although located on your property as an ancillary or complementary space, will not qualify as a laneway suite. The benefit to not having a building classified as a laneway suite is that you do not need to meet the City’s strict requirements regarding materials, set-backs and access. The downside is these structures cannot function as a “suite”, and therefore cannot be legally tenanted.

2. Am I in the Right Neighbourhood?

Laneways suites are not permissible across all Toronto neighbourhoods, . To build a Laneway Suite, your property must be located within area 546 of the Official Plan  If your property lies outside of this boundary, you will have to apply to the City for permission to amend the zoning bylaw which  restricts Laneway suites in your neighbourhood.

3. Will the Fire Department be Able to Access the Laneway Suite?

Fire and emergency vehicles are, in most instances, the largest vehicles on the road. The narrower your laneway, the less likely you are to successfully obtain an approval permit from the City to build a suite  along that laneway. A narrow laneway may mean that you will need to apply for additional City approvals to widen the laneway, or to permit  an exception specific to your property.

4. How “Green” Will You Go?

Even if your laneway is too narrow or your property is not located in a ‘permitted’ neighbourhood, you still may be able to you may be able to squeeze a permit out of the City if you intend to use sustainable materials and the suite has a  small environmental footprint. The bylaw substantially favours  environmentally-friendly laneway suites which are  “off the grid”, and constructed so as to minimize a reduction of green space or trees on the property.  So, when you are building your laneway suite, you may want to consider going the “green” – especially if you are facing narrow laneway or neighbourhood boundary issues.

5. To Rent or not to Rent?

If you’re hoping to build a laneway as an income generator by renting your laneway house out to tenants,  you’ll need to ensure the building meets all Ontario building and fire codes. This may mean you’ll need to consider carefully whether your space can incorporate the appropriate fire exits and that you build your suite with a ceiling height that is consistent with the building code. Non-compliance here means you could set yourself up for incurring penalties from the municipality or worse; harm to a tenant that occupies the building. These elements are less likely to be a concern if you’re using your laneway house for recreational or storage purposes.

In general, these issues should be top of mind when building a laneway suite. If you’re considering building a laneway suite, please get in touch with a lawyer at RPL for for an assessment of issues for your particular circumstances. We can help you navigate the legal elements of your proposed laneway suite so that you can be on your way towards creating this unique income-generating tool.

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