LIVING DOWN UNDER
With proper planning, your new basement apartment can be a smooth and uneventful project. There are many requirements that must be met; most of them are established by the Building Code in your area and your Municipal by-laws.
Zoning & Criteria
Depending on the area, your municipality may no longer permit basement apartments. For example, in a R2-3 zoning, or a semi-detached or duplex, you may be able to add a basement apartment only if the required lot size is met. If more than 50% of the basement is below grade then it is considered a cellar and cannot be made into a basement apartment. Basement zoning by-laws (unamended) have been in place since 1979.
Your plan must include provisions for the health and safety of the occupant, such as a separate entrance or fire resistance rating board between the floors, to give 45 min. fire safety if above or adjacent to another dwelling. The fire and safety requirements may differ depending on your location and layout of your basement apartment. The fire dept. may be asked to look over your building permit request, if it is questionable.
A building permit for new construction would be approx. $6.89/sq. ft. and for an established basement $1.97/sq. ft. A plumbing permit is also required for a new kitchen or bathroom addition. For new supply lines or drain piping, a design must be submitted with the permit application. The cost for this permit may be approx. $60.00 for the first 7 fixtures and $4.00 each additional fixtures installed, depending on the municipality.
Basement Apartment Legalities have had many changes occur through the 1990’s. In 1994 basement apartments were considered legal as long as they met the building, fire and planning standards.
When the Progressive Conservatives replaced the NDP in Ontario in 1995, they returned to the municipalities the right to decide through their own zoning bylaws. The issue of new apartments added to houses may differ in each municipality, therefore do not assume one rule applies to all.
Another basement apartment requirement permitted by the PC Government was the two-unit house, to be grand-fathered if the units were “used or occupied” on or before Nov. 16/95. This also had to comply with the new fire code by July 14/96 and meet municipal planning standards. Grandfathering was also applied to a house issued a building permit to construct or alter a second unit on or before May 22/96.
In summary, basement apartments built after July14/96 must comply with the Building Code and apartments existing on or before that date must comply with the Fire Code. Certain properties and municipal zoning standards must be complied by both groups. In determining whether a basement apartment is legal: a) obtain facts of significant dates concerning laws that came into effect, b) obtain fire department certificate, c) obtain hydro certificate.
Realtors as well as purchasers should be concerned with securing the evidence that a second unit is legal. Along with fire and hydro clearance certificates, an inspection by proper authorities should be performed as well.