Legal Basement Apartment Requirements

Toronto holds hospitable grounds for its citizens. Basement apartments are growing in popularity over the years. The predominant reason for the popularity could be the swift and easy construction of the building. Moreover, the comparatively cheaper value attracts a large number of renters. This boosts the economy of the Toronto real estate market.

What is a Legal Basement Apartment?

A legal basement apartment is defined as a category of ‘second dwelling unit’ which should follow the rules and regulations under the ‘Ontario Building Code Requirements’. The legal basement is also known as the ‘Second Unit’ under the Ontario Code unit.

This implies that the government has the liability to figure out the requirements of the residence, the basic dwelling category, and space simply by using the code. Even the word ‘basement’ needs not to be specified by the owner. The legal basement should possess the ‘Ontario Fire Code’, as well as the ‘local municipal zoning’.

Legal Basement Apartment in Toronto

Ontario Legal Basement Apartment Requirements

In 2013, the Second Suite Bylaw introduced the rules and regulations for the basement apartments. By means of zoning, citizens can enlist permissions for their second suite, but they must own a clear identification of their property, such as the building or house code, and fire code, and also follow the set of rules of the housing standards. In Toronto, the ‘Ontario Building Codes’ are observed, which yields the basic guidelines for house construction.

Here is a guide to give basic information regarding the legal construction of the basement apartments.

  • The pre-requisitive for the application of the ‘Ontario Requirements’ for ‘Second Units’ is that the settlement requires to be older than 5 years.
  • If the settlement is comparatively new, then it has to follow the guidelines of the ‘Ontario Building Code’.
  • ‘The Ontario Building Code for Secondary Units’, ’ESA or the Electrical safety Authority’, following the guidelines of the local municipality, ‘Ontario Fire Code’.
Kitchen in Basement Apartment in Toronto

Requirements of a Legal Basement Apartment in Toronto

For the settlement of a legal basement apartment, the owner should have the ‘Zoning codes of the area’. This ensures that the settlement is granted the permit status by the municipality, and it has to abide by the rules and regulations of the municipality. Following are the requirements of the ‘Second Unit’.

Main Building Requirements

The general size of the building is dependent on the total number of bed chambers. Restrictions of the bachelor unit include the space reduced to only 145 sq. ft. Other requirements for the rooms such as;

  • the dining room should be within 75 sq. ft,
  • kitchen and a bedroom must be within 40 sq. ft,
  • kitchen, and two bedrooms should comply with the dimensions within 40 sq. ft,
  • master bedroom without any additional closets should fit within 105 sq. ft.,
  • with closets should fulfill the dimensions of 95 sq. ft.

Secondly, there must be sufficient spacing for the washrooms, sinks, etc.

Knowing the Heating and Cooling Requirements

Legal ‘Second Units’ should possess the capability to use the items of the main unit (UL268A). This implies that the main units are liable to share the furnace, ducts, etc. with the second unit. For the safety of the second unit, ducts should be installed at the furnace to prevent any emergency situations.

For Fire Safety

Newer legal basements are authorized to have 45 minutes of ‘fire separation’ with respect to the main unit. But the legal basements which are older than 5 years must follow the guidelines to have 45 minutes of separation from the main unit. The issued separation must comply with either the wall separation or the distance between the ceilings. These days most houses come with completely interconnected smoke alarms, so the separation gets reduced significantly to simply 15 minutes.

Plumbing Details

Every legal basement comes with the prerequisites of water and sanitary requirements. Water may include both variations from hot, to cold. A separate ‘water shut-off valve’ should be facilitated along with the facility of the ‘backwater preventer valve. Bathrooms should have access to sinks and functional latrines. Kitchens must be provided with a kitchen sink, etc.

Window Requirements

Usually, the setup of the windows is dependent on the size of the basement unit. The windows should be guided to fulfill around 5% of the surface area of the living and dining room or should be sufficiently 2.5% of the surface area in the bedrooms.

Electrical Requirement

All the legal basements should be approved, as well as inspected by the ESA or the licensed electrical Safety Authority. Residents or the owners can either ask for a certificate or simply ask the ESA to put up a sticker in the ‘main breaker panel.’ Other mandated requirements include a ‘light switch’ in all their rooms, etc.


In case the legal basements are connected with the main unit in terms of fire safety, a common exit can be shared. Secondly, the legal basements should possess the ‘second means of escape’.

Bathroom in Legal Basement Apartment in Toronto

Illegal Basement Apartment

Quite recently, a total of 1430 houses were advertised and sold in accordance with the GTA 2020. However, the government asked questions on grounds of legality and investigated that a total of 303 do not follow the methods of legal construction. Thereby, it is of utmost importance for the tenant to know if they reside in an illegal settlement or not.

Illegal Basement Apartment and Tenant Rights

The ‘Residential Tenancies Act’ (RTA) of Ontario is issued to protect tenants from the exploitation of their owners. According to the RTA, every tenant has their ‘rights and protection’ if the basement is functional with its ‘kitchen and bathroom facilities’. Even if the tenant comes to know about the basement being ‘illegal’ within their tenure of stay, they shall still exercise the same rights as any other ‘residential tenant’ in the city.

How to Report an Illegal Basement Apartment

For the failure of the owner to produce any of the three legal requirements, the tenant is advised to contact the legal municipality and lodge a complaint. After the investigation, the municipality can come up with some of the issues such as quick enforcement to fix the issues, and to gain access the to legality of the basement. They can also ask the owner to evict the tenant and pay a certain amount of fine as a part of their ‘moving cost’. In case, the tenant faces harassment, the municipality can also take legal action against the landlord.

How Do I know if my Basement Apartment is Legal?

Before deciding to rent a place, tenants are advised to see the evidence of the ownership. The owners should possess the following to reveal the authentication of the apartment:

  • ESA Certificate, or ESA sticker in the main breaker panel.
  • Fire Certificate from the Fire Authority.
  • ‘Certificate of Compliance’ to indicate the building registration.

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