BASEMENT APARTMENT - BASIC LEGAL REQUIREMENTS (TORONTO)
By Nalliah Thayabharan - Expert Building Inspections Ltd
A basement apartment might be just what you need to provide the added income to make your dream purchase affordable, but
beware of the pitfalls and remember that you as a purchaser assume all the liability of a home that doesn't comply, regardless of
when you bought it. There is no single government authority, which provides written certification that any given basement apartment is
legal. Smart real estate agents never list a house as having a legal basement apartment since they do not want to guarantee that the
basement apartment complies fully with all the applicable fire codes, building codes, Electrical Safety Authority regulations and
zoning and housing standards by-laws. Illegal basement apartments are a risk to the occupants and others in the structure as well as
a concern to the community in general. They are dangerous as they may pose a fire risk and other safety concerns such as:
* fire risks such as not enough building exits, fire separations between units, working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors
* illegal and unsafe utility connections
* illegal and unsafe building renovations
* excess driveway and street parking
* excess garbage
* overload on existing utilities (electrical, plumbing, water and sewers)
* possible depreciation of neighbouring property values
When a suspected illegal apartment is reported, the Fire Department receives the complaint. A Fire Prevention Officer will then
conduct an initial inspection to determine whether the unit is permitted (as per Fire Code regulations only) and to ensure that while
the units are occupied that they are made safe. The fact that the unit is inspected by the Fire Department and may be approved as
safe or that they meet the Fire Code does not necessarily mean that the unit is permitted under the legislation
The Ontario Building Code which prescribes minimum requirements for the construction of buildings is a code that applies only when
the house was built. The building code changes over the time but for the most part, it does not apply retroactively.
The fire code which prescribes construction and safety issues as they relate to how the building is required to perform should it catch
fire, can apply retroactively.
Here are few basic requirements for a legal basement apartment in Toronto:
(1) The detached or semi detached house must be at least 5 years old.
(2) The front of the house cannot be significantly altered to change its appearance from that of a one unit building.
(3) Basement unit must be smaller than the other units.
(4) Minimum ceiling height is 6'5". Ceiling must be continuous. Suspended (T-bar type) ceilings and exposed joists are not
acceptable. Furnace room ceiling must be dry walled or plastered too.
(5) Doors must be solid wood or metal and minimum thickness is 1.75". Exterior door must be at least 32"x78". The smallest
dimension of the window is 18" and the opening must be at least 600sq in. Windows must be within 3' of ground, and if there is
window well it must extend 3' from the house wall to allow room to crawl out.
(6) Bathrooms have to have either a window or fan.
(7) A kitchen equipped with a refrigerator, stove in good repair and working condition. Cupboards having a capacity of not less
than four cubic feet multiplied by the total number of persons occupying the unit..
(8) New apartments require building permits before construction begins. In most areas an additional parking space is required
for new apartments. If there is a parking spot for the upper unit, there must also be a parking spot for the basement.
(9) The property owner is responsible to make sure that smoke alarms are installed and maintained.
Carbon Monoxide alarms are required under many Municipal By-laws. They are to be provided in each dwelling unit in a building
containing a fuel fired appliance or an attached garage. Even if they are not required by legislation they make good sense with to-
day's design methods providing for air-tight construction of dwelling units.
Smoke alarms must be installed in each dwelling unit on every floor including those containing a bedroom or sleeping area. The
alarm must be audible in bedrooms when the bedroom doors are closed. The smoke alarm may be battery operated or connected to
an electrical circuit with no disconnect switch between the over current device and the smoke alarm. Interconnected smoke alarms
may be required if:
• 15min. Fire Resistance Rating is used between dwelling units
• one dwelling unit must exit through another dwelling unit
If required, interconnected smoke alarms must be installed in every storey above and below grade in each dwelling unit, and in every
shared means of escape where applicable. These alarms must be audible in bedrooms when the intervening doors are closed.
(10) An electrical inspection by Electrical Safety Authority and all the deficiencies identified during the inspection must be
addressed. Owners should retain the letter of compliance received from the Electrical Safety Authority for future reference purposes.
This letter must be made available to the Chief Fire Official upon request.
(11) A continuous separation with a 30 min. Fire Resistance Rating is required between dwelling units and between dwelling
units and other areas. This may be provided by existing membrane of lath and plaster or gypsum board.
Openings in Fire Separation shall be protected with rated doors installed in hollow metal or solid wood frames and equipped with
self closing devices
Lesser degrees of Fire Resistance Rating may be acceptable with the provision of interconnected Smoke Alarms or Sprinkler
Protection. The containment features are intended to provide protection for the occupants living in a dwelling unit from a fire occurring
in another portion of the building, outside of their control.
(12) A single means of egress - provision for the escape of persons from each dwelling unit in the event of fire - may be
acceptable if the following conditions are met:
• It is properly separated with a 30 min. Fire Resistance Rating
• The flame spread rating of means of escape does not exceed 150 (wood paneling is unacceptable)
• The means of escape does not involve entering another dwelling unit or other occupancy and leads directly to the outside at
Two means of escape are required if one means of escape is through another dwelling unit. An existing means of egress may be
acceptable if the building is sprinklered.
A detached house, semi-detached house or row house containing two existing dwelling units (each unit containing living, cooking,
sleeping, and sanitary facilities) may be permitted if it was in existence on or before November 16, 1995 and meets the Ontario Fire
Proof is required to establish the date upon which the second dwelling unit came into existence (on or before November 16, 1995):
* An affidavit, sworn before a notary public or commissioner of oath confirming the date of construction of the second unit and
confirming that the unit has, either currently or in the past, been occupied as a dwelling unit.
* Any one of the following:
1. Past rent cheques
2. Assessment Roll information
3. Lease agreement
4. Installation date of a second hydro or gas meter
5. Utility bill for both units
6. An affidavit from past tenant(s), sworn before a notary public or commissioner of Oath confirming the occupancy date(s) – affidavit
must include former tenant’s current address and phone number
Section 9.8 of the Ontario Fire Code prescribes the requirements for Retro-fit for basement apartments in the following areas:
1. Exits - egress
2. Separations between dwelling units (ceilings and walls), doors, etc.
3. Smoke alarms
4. Carbon Monoxide alarms (per By-law)
5. Hydro inspection
The landlord (owner) is responsible for compliance with the Ontario Fire Code and is responsible to ensure the safety of their
tenants. An individual may be fined $50,000 per offence or one year in jail or both, for violations of the Ontario Fire Code.
The landlord (property owner) is also responsible for compliance with the municipality’s zoning by-law to ensure that the property is
being used/occupied as permitted by the zoning by-law. An individual who is found guilty of a violation of the municipality’s zoning by-
law may be fined up to $25,000 per offence and a corporation found guilty of an offence may be fined up to $50,000 per offence.
Expert Building Inspections Ltd
905 940 0811 Fax 905 940 6108 www.expertinspector.com