Your 6-step guide to Toronto Laneway Houses

It’s my dad’s birthday next week. He’s a hard person to buy a gift for – aside from vanilla ice cream, a really tacky store-bought cake, and all his ids and grandkids at the table, there isn’t much that he needs or wants.  So what do you get for the person who’s impossible to shop for? This year, we’ve decided to get him a consultation with an architect to explore the feasibility of building a laneway house! 

When my parents first got married they set their sights on homeownership. As a young couple just setting out in their professional careers the most important criteria for them was affordability and location.  They first purchased a 5-unit house in Cabbagetown in the late ’70’s, which they painstakingly converted to 3 units (that’s where my sister and I were born).  Shortly thereafter, my dad was transferred to Calgary for work, so they rented the house (on a 5 yr term!), packed up the kids, and started anew.  My dad was transferred back 3 yrs later, and with their home fully rented for another 2 yrs, they purchased a home in Moss Park in the mid-80’s, which he still owns today. I have been working with my parents for some time now to make a plan for their properties as they settle into retirement, and one of the projects we have been contemplating is what to do with the crumbling yet historic double garage in Moss Park.  

There are many advantages to building a laneway house. Top of the list would be that laneway houses can be rented out to generate additional income for homeowners. The rental income can help offset the cost of building the laneway house and provide a long-term source of income. Laneway houses provide additional housing options in areas where housing is in high demand, as well as affordable housing options for renters or family members. This is a great solution for homeowners looking to ‘age in place’ and live in a smaller home on their property while still being close to family and friends. Laneway houses can be designed to be flexible spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as a home office, guesthouse, or a space for people to escape to when the main house gets too crowded.

Step 1: Is your Property Eligible?

The first step is to determine if in fact your property is eligible for a laneway house. Toronto has specific guidelines and requirements that you must follow, so it’s essential that you do your research first. The requirements for building a laneway house in Toronto are outlined in the city’s Laneway Suites bylaw, which was adopted in 2018. Here are some of the key requirements:

  1. Lot Size: The lot size must be at least 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) wide and meet specific depth requirements, depending on the location of the lot.
  2. Laneway Width: The laneway width must be at least 3 meters (9.8 feet) wide to accommodate emergency vehicle access.
  3. Setbacks: The laneway house must be set back at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) from the rear lot line and any adjacent side lot lines. The minimum distance between the laneway house and the main house must be 5.0 meters (16.4 feet).
  4. Height: The maximum height for a laneway house is 6.3 meters (20.7 feet), or two storeys. If the laneway house sits less than 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) from the main house, the maximum height allowance is 4.0 meters (13.12 feet).
  5. Size: The maximum size of a laneway house is 10 meters (32.8 feet) in length and 8 meters (26.25 feet) wide, and the laneway house cannot exceed 30 percent of the total lot area.
  6. Parking: If a laneway house is built, the main house is not required to provide parking. You must provide 2 spots for bicycle parking.
  7. Access: The laneway house must have a separate pedestrian access from the laneway, and emergency vehicle access must be maintained.
  8. Services: The laneway house must be connected to municipal water and sewage systems. If the laneway house is not connected to the main house’s electrical system, it must have its separate electrical connection.
  9. Design: The laneway house must be designed to complement the character of the neighborhood and must meet all building code and fire safety requirements.

These are just some of the key requirements for building a laneway house in Toronto. It’s essential to review the city’s full Laneway Suites bylaw and consult with a professional to ensure compliance with all regulations.

Step 2: Hiring an Architect

Once you have determined that your property is eligible for a laneway house, your next step will be to hire an architect.  Choosing an architect is an important decision when planning to build a new project, as they will help you create a design that meets your needs and complies with Toronto’s zoning and building regulations. Here are some tips on how to choose an architect:

  1. Look for qualifications and experience: Architects are required to be licensed to practice in their jurisdiction, so make sure to verify their credentials. You can also look for architects who have experience in the type of project you’re planning to build.
  2. Check their portfolio: Review the architect’s portfolio to see if their style matches your vision for your project. Look for projects that are similar in size, scope, and complexity to your project.
  3. Read client reviews: Look for online reviews or testimonials from previous clients to see how satisfied they were with the architect’s work.
  4. Schedule a meeting: Meet with the architect to discuss your project, goals, and budget. This will give you a chance to gauge their communication skills and determine if they are a good fit for your project.
  5. Discuss fees and contract terms: Make sure to discuss the architect’s fees and payment terms upfront. Be sure to get a detailed contract outlining the scope of work, fees, payment schedule, and timelines.
  6. Check for compatibility: Ensure that you have a good rapport with the architect and feel comfortable communicating with them. Building a project can be a long and sometimes stressful process, so it’s important to work with someone you trust and feel comfortable with.

Step 3: Getting your Building Permit

Getting a building permit in Toronto requires submitting detailed information about the proposed construction project to the city’s Building Division. Here is some of the information that is typically required:

  1. Application form: You will need to fill out an application form that provides details about the project, such as the address, the type of project, and the proposed construction.
  2. Drawings and plans: You will need to submit detailed drawings and plans of the proposed construction, including floor plans, elevation drawings, and construction details. These drawings must be prepared by a qualified architect or engineer.
  3. Building code compliance: You will need to demonstrate how the proposed construction complies with the Ontario Building Code and the city’s zoning bylaws.
  4. Engineering reports: You may need to submit engineering reports that provide details on the structural, mechanical, and electrical systems of the proposed construction.
  5. Fees: You will need to pay a fee for the building permit, which is calculated based on the value of the construction project.
  6. Other requirements: Depending on the nature of the construction project, you may need to provide additional information or documentation, such as energy efficiency reports or environmental assessments.
Apply for a City of Toronto Building Permit

It’s important to note that the requirements for a building permit may vary depending on the specific project and location. It’s essential to consult with the city’s Building Division or a qualified professional to ensure that you have all the necessary information and documentation before submitting your application. The City of Toronto has prepared a very informative handout on the Building Permit process, I recommend checking it out. 

Step 4: Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a contractor in Toronto can be a daunting task, but there are several steps you can take to ensure you find the right one for your project. Here are some tips on how to hire a contractor in Toronto:

Hiring the right contractor is crucial to the success of your project, so take your time to research and choose the best fit for your needs.

  1. Research potential contractors: Look for contractors who specialize in the type of work you need to be done. You can search online, ask for referrals from friends and family, or check with local trade associations for reputable contractors in your area.
  2. Check credentials and licensing: Make sure the contractor is licensed to work in Toronto and has the necessary insurance coverage. You can check with the city’s Building Division or the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to verify credentials.
  3. Get multiple bids: Request bids from several contractors and compare them based on price, timeline, and scope of work. Make sure each bid includes all the necessary details and that the contractor has provided a detailed scope of work.
  4. Check references: Ask for references from the contractors you are considering and contact them to learn more about their experience working with the contractor. Look for feedback on communication, work quality, and timeliness.
  5. Review contracts carefully: Make sure to review the contract thoroughly and ask for clarification on any terms you don’t understand. Ensure that the contract includes a detailed scope of work, payment terms, timeline, and any necessary permits and inspections.
  6. Communication: Choose a contractor that is responsive, communicates clearly, and is easy to work with. Building a project can be a long and sometimes stressful process, so it’s essential to work with someone you trust and feel comfortable with.

Step 5: Connecting your Utilities

Getting utilities connected after construction in Toronto requires some planning and coordination with the various utility companies. Here are the general steps to follow:

  1. Notify the utility companies: Contact the utility companies at least a few weeks before you need the services activated. The utility companies that you may need to contact include the electricity, gas, water, cable, and internet providers.
  2. Provide information: Provide the utility companies with the necessary information, such as your address, the date you need the service activated, and any other relevant details.
  3. Obtain necessary permits: Depending on the type of construction project, you may need to obtain permits from the city for utility connections.
  4. Schedule a service appointment: Schedule a service appointment with the utility companies to have them connect the services to your property. Be prepared to provide access to the property to the utility companies as needed.
  5. Pay fees: There may be fees associated with activating the utility services, such as connection fees, setup fees, and deposits.
  6. Confirm the services are working: After the utility services are activated, make sure to test each service to ensure it is working correctly. If there are any issues, contact the utility company immediately.

It’s important to note that the process for connecting utilities can vary depending on the specific utility companies and the location of the property. Make sure to check with the relevant utility companies and the city to ensure you have all the necessary information and documentation before starting the process.

Step 6: Book Final Inspections and Close Permits

Keys in lock
Toronto Building TelePermit Inspection Booking Number Toronto and East York District 416-338-0700 North York District 416-395-7541 Etobicoke York District 416-394-8055 Scarborough District 416-396-7322

At various stages of construction, you will be required to book inspections for your Building, Plumbing, and Mechanical Permits to ensure everything is being built and installed to code. You can book inspections with the City of Toronto by phone or online, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind along the way:

  1. Be aware of deadlines: You are required to notify your inspector once your project is ready for each required inspection.
  2. Schedule inspections: This can be done online or by calling the City of Toronto Telepermit direct line for your area.
  3. Correct any deficiencies: If any deficiencies are found during the inspections, you will need to correct them and schedule a re-inspection. This process may need to be repeated until all deficiencies are resolved.
  4. Obtain necessary approvals: Depending on the scope of work, you may need to obtain approvals from other departments, such as the fire department, health department, or zoning department, before all permits can be closed.
  5. Apply to Occupy: An Authority to Occupy application is a required in order to allow a portion of an unfinished building to be occupied, you must consult with the Building Inspector that the building is ready for such a permit.
  6. Close all permits: It is your responsibility as the owner of a property to ensure that all inspections are carried out, including the final inspection, and that your permit is closed upon project completion.

The process for obtaining an occupancy permit can vary depending on the specific building and location. Make sure to check with the city’s Building Division to ensure you have all the necessary information and documentation before starting the process.

So there you have it – I’ll follow up with my own experiences as we journey through the Laneway House project. No doubt there will be hurdles, delays, disagreements, tears, lots of laughter, learnings and in the end a family success story to pass on to the next generation of Jackson’s. Stay tuned!

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