Consumer Choice Award 2014 GTA REQUEST A QUOTE 416-782-7605

Get Extra Income: Legalize Your Toronto Basement Apartment!

In Toronto’s growing real estate market, it’s considered a wise decision to transform your basement into a legal suite if it’s viable. Going down this path can raise the value of your house while bringing in more income. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps required to legalize your basement apartment, guiding you through the complex web of regulations and criteria.

Legalizing your basement apartment is crucial for several reasons. It ensures tenants’ safety and well-being by abiding by health, safety, structural regulations, municipal zoning laws, the Ontario Building Code, and the Ontario Fire Code. 

Renting out an unauthorized basement apartment can have major consequences, including hefty fines, court hearings, and lawsuits. Legalizing your basement apartment from the start gives you peace of mind and shields you from potential problems.  

If you’re considering turning your basement into a legally rentable unit, you can trust The Home Improvement People for expert guidance. Since 2002, our award-winning services have focused on quality home improvements, including basement renovation. Contact us today to receive a free quote!

Table of Contents


Distinguishing Between a Finished Basement and a Legal Basement Apartment


Finished Basement: A finished basement is a portion of a basement that has undergone renovation to add more living space. Features like flooring, finished walls, ceilings, lighting, and perhaps additional bathrooms or rooms are included. However, a completed basement isn’t necessarily intended to be a stand-alone home. Some elements that are required for it to be considered a real home are missing, such as a kitchen, a separate entrance, and compliance with safety and building codes.

Legal Basement Apartment: Also called a second dwelling unit, a legal basement apartment is a self-contained living space inside a basement that conforms to all applicable municipal, state, and local zoning laws as well as the Ontario Building and Fire Codes. It provides every convenience needed for independent living, such as a private bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, as well as a separate entrance. A legally recognized basement apartment must also adhere to strict rules regarding the dimensions of the rooms, ceiling heights, window sizes, fire safety measures, plumbing, electrical systems, and other factors.

Overview of Regulations Under the Ontario Building Code

The basic requirements for the design and safety of buildings in Ontario, including second-dwelling units such as basement apartments, are outlined in the Ontario Building Code. The purpose of these rules is to guarantee that all living areas adhere to fundamental requirements for structural integrity, safety, and health. Important provisions of the Ontario Building Code that apply to basement apartments are as follows:

  • Room Sizes and Floor Area
  • Ceiling Heights
  • Windows


Ontario Fire Code

The Ontario Fire Code sets fire safety requirements for all residential buildings, including those with permitted basement apartments. Important criteria for fire safety include:

  • Fire Separation: A physical partition separating the basement apartment from the main home that delays the spread of fire. This involves using fire-resistant materials for the flooring, walls, and ceilings.
  • Smoke Alarms: When installed properly, these networked smoke alarms alert all occupants to the possibility of a fire.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms: These are essential for identifying and alerting homeowners to carbon monoxide levels within their homes, particularly when fuel-burning equipment or attached garages are present.


Steps to Legalize Your Basement Apartment


1. Preliminary Considerations

Obtaining legal status for your basement apartment requires a few key procedures. Preliminary considerations are essential to setting the stage for a successful project.


Consulting Local Municipal Planning and Building Departments

Before starting any basement construction or renovation project, you must consult with your local municipality’s planning and building authorities. These authorities will provide you with the information you want regarding: 

  • Whether you are allowed to add a second unit to your property
  • Local zoning requirements and restrictions
  • Building Code and other by-laws that apply to your project


Checking Applicable Municipal Zoning Requirements

Zoning regulations in municipalities specify what can be constructed where. Your ability to legalize a basement apartment may be greatly impacted by these restrictions. Important things to think about are:

  • Zoning Classification: Verify if your property is located in a zone that permits second-dwelling units.
  • Parking Requirements: Ensure you have enough parking space to meet local regulations.
  • Entrance and Exit Requirements: Check if there are specific rules about the number and placement of entrances and exits.


Necessity of Building Permits

To legally own a basement apartment, you must first get a construction permit. The following are involved in the construction permit process:

  • Submitting a completed application form along with any other required documents
  • Providing construction drawings (usually at least two sets)
  • Paying the building permit fee


Design Compliance with Building Code

Your basement apartment must meet the design and construction standards outlined in the Ontario Building Code. This includes:

  • Minimum Room Sizes: To guarantee sufficient living space, each room must adhere to certain size standards.
  • Ceiling Heights: The required heights for various areas of the basement may differ.
  • Windows and Natural Light: For emergency exits, ventilation, and light, the sizes and locations of windows must be considered.


Importance of Professional Assistance

It can be difficult to navigate the complexity of zoning regulations, construction rules, and permit procedures. A skilled specialist might be hired to help streamline and expedite the procedure. Think about interacting:

  • Architects: For designing compliant and functional spaces.
  • Professional Engineers: For ensuring structural integrity and safety.
  • Registered Designers: For creating plans that meet all regulatory requirements.
  • The Home Improvement People: Expert guidance throughout the entire process.

These professionals can help you secure the necessary licenses, represent you in dealing with local authorities, and ensure that your project conforms with all applicable regulations. Their expertise might save you time, money, and trouble in the future.

Consider The Home Improvement People Inc. for professional assistance. We are an award-winning general contractor firm that specializes in home renovations, including basement renovations, and we have completed hundreds of renovations since our founding in 2002. Get in touch with us right now for a free quote!


2. Main Building Requirements

For your basement apartment to be legally permitted and livable, it must meet the basic building criteria. These specifications are meant to offer a secure and comfortable living space for renters. The following are the main points you should focus on:


Minimum Room Sizes and Floor Area

Minimum room sizes are set in the Ontario Building Code to guarantee sufficient living space. Whether the rooms are laid out in an open-concept plan or are divided by walls affects these criteria. The following are a few of the prerequisites:

  • Living Area: At least 13.5 square meters (145 square feet)
  • Dining Area: At least 7 square meters (75 square feet)
  • Kitchen: At least 4.2 square meters (45.2 square feet)
  • Combined Living, Dining, and Kitchen Area (One-Bedroom Unit): At least 11 square meters (118.4 square feet)
  • Master Bedroom (Without Built-In Closet): At least 9.8 square meters (95 square feet)
  • Other Bedrooms (Without Built-In Closets): At least 7 square meters (75 square feet)
  • Bathroom: Sufficient space to accommodate a sink, toilet, and shower stall or bathtub
  • Combined Sleeping, Living, Dining, and Kitchen Area: At least 13.5 square meters (145 square feet)


Ceiling Height Requirements

A legal basement apartment also requires a certain ceiling height. Minimum ceiling heights are required by the Ontario Building Code to guarantee accessibility and comfort:

  • Basement Second Unit: 1.95 meters (6 feet 4¾ inches) minimum ceiling height over the whole necessary floor space, including the path from the interior to the outside of the unit.


Window Size and Placement Requirements

In basement apartments, windows are essential for natural light, ventilation, and emergency escapes. The dimensions and purpose of the rooms that windows serve dictate the size and arrangement of windows. The required minimum window area is as follows:

  • Living and Dining Rooms: Windows must cover at least 5% of the floor area.
  • Bedrooms: Windows must cover at least 2.5% of the floor area.
  • Laundry Room, Kitchen, Bathroom: Windows are not required, but they can enhance ventilation and lighting.

Windows can also act as backup exits in an emergency. Windows that serve as emergency escapes have to be:

  • Large enough for a person to escape through
  • Easy to open without the use of tools


3. Plumbing and Electrical Requirements

For your basement apartment to be functional and to comply with regulations, it must fulfill all plumbing and electrical requirements.


Necessary Plumbing Installations

A functional plumbing system is essential for any type of housing. The following plumbing regulations apply to your basement apartment:

  • Hot and Cold Water Supply: All sinks, showers, and bathtubs in each unit must have a dependable hot and cold water supply.
  • Bathroom Fixtures: A sink, toilet, and a bathtub or shower are necessary for any bathroom. 
  • Kitchen Sink: A sink that has access to both hot and cold water is a need in the kitchen. 
  • Laundry Facilities: It is necessary to have access to laundry facilities. This might be a separate laundry room in the basement apartment or a combined laundry room that is available to both apartments.


Electrical Facilities and Lighting Requirements

For the safety and well-being of the occupants, electrical systems must be secure and functioning properly. The Ontario Building Code specifies the following electrical requirements for a basement apartment:

  • Lighting: The basement apartment needs enough lighting throughout.
    • A light fixture and switch: A wall switch must operate the lighting in every room. This guarantees both usability and security.
    • Stairway Lighting: To provide safe and easy access, a light switch has to be installed at the top and bottom of the steps.
  • Electrical Outlets: To satisfy contemporary electrical demands, the unit should have enough electrical outlets fitted throughout. This provides outlets for appliances in the living rooms and bedrooms in addition to the kitchen.
  • Electrical Safety: Safety regulations must be followed by all electrical installations. This covers circuit breakers, appropriate grounding, and adherence to Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) guidelines.


4. Heating and Ventilation

Appropriate heating and ventilation are crucial for creating a safe and comfortable living space in your basement apartment. By meeting these requirements, you may be sure that the location satisfies local building codes and safety standards in addition to being livable.


Single Furnace Allowance and Fire Safety Installations

The main house and the basement apartment can both be heated by a single furnace, according to the Ontario Building Code. However, the following fire safety measures need to be followed to prevent smoke and fire from spreading between the units:

  • Smoke Detectors in Air Ducts: A certain type of smoke detector must be put in the heating system’s major supply or return air ducts. When this mechanism is activated, the fuel supply and the furnace’s electrical power are both turned off. This prevents smoke from moving from one unit to another in the case of a fire.
  • Fire Safety: A fire-rated partition must be erected between the main house and the basement apartment. This barrier helps keep any potential fire contained inside a single unit, giving inhabitants more time to escape and reducing the amount of smoke and flames that spread.


Requirements for Heating and Ventilation Systems

Maintaining a healthy interior environment in your basement apartment requires making sure it has enough heating and ventilation. The following conditions need to be fulfilled:

  • Heating System: The basement apartment’s heating system must be adequate to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the winter. This usually means adding the basement unit to the existing heating system, but it must be done in a way that conforms to building codes and safety standards.
  • Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is necessary to preserve good air quality and prevent issues like mold and mildew, which may be particularly problematic in basement environments. Among the ventilation requirements are:
    • Mechanical Ventilation: If natural ventilation is inadequate, systems like air exchangers or exhaust fans must be installed. These systems aid in maintaining a healthy indoor atmosphere by removing stale air and bringing in fresh air.
    • Kitchen and Bathroom Ventilation: Enough ventilation is necessary in kitchens and bathrooms to remove moisture and odors. Usually, this calls for installing exhaust fans that vent outside.
    • Air circulation: Keeping the apartment’s temperature and air quality constant requires making sure that there is adequate air movement throughout. This is possible with the correct fans, vents, and ducting.


5. Fire Safety Measures


Fire Separation Requirements

In the event of a fire, fire separation is essential for safeguarding both the main house and the basement apartment. The following fire separation procedures must be followed, per the Ontario Building Code:

  • Fire-Resistant Barriers: A continuous fire-resistant barrier must be constructed between the main portion of the house and the basement unit. This barrier, which is often constructed of fire-rated walls, floors, and ceilings, is meant to stop smoke and flames from spreading.
  • Protected Openings: All openings in the fire separation barrier, such as windows, doors, and ducts, must be covered with fire-rated materials or equipment. Installing fire dampers in the ventilation ducts is one method of preventing a fire from spreading through the HVAC system.


Proper Placement and Standards for Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are crucial for early fire detection. The Ontario Building Code mandates that smoke alarms in basement apartments be installed in a certain position and meet the CAN/ULC S531 performance standard.

  • Location: The basement apartment needs smoke alarms installed in each bedroom and on each floor.
  • In common areas shared by the main home and the basement apartment, such as laundry rooms and entrances
  • Connection: Smoke alarms must be connected so that when one goes off, the alarm on the whole unit will ring. This ensures that locals will be notified as quickly as possible about the fire, regardless of where it starts.
  • Flashing Light: Smoke alarms must have a flashing light when they are activated to give both an audible and a visual warning.


Installation of Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Homes with attached garages or fuel-burning equipment must have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. The following places are required by the Ontario Building Code to have CO alarms:

  • Close to Bedrooms: To guarantee that residents are informed while they sleep, CO alarms must be placed close to sleeping areas.
  • Furnace Room: A CO alarm needs to be put in the furnace room if it is situated apart from the residential units.

CO alarms must be fitted by local laws and manufacturer’s instructions, regardless of whether they run on batteries or electricity.


Exit Requirements: Primary and Secondary Means of Escape

One of the most important requirements for basement units is to have accessible and safe exits. The following exit criteria are specified by the Ontario Building Code:

  • Main Exit: A major exit that connects to the exterior must be present in every basement apartment. There should be no obstacles in the way of this exit’s accessibility.
  • Secondary Exit: In addition to the main exit, there must be a backup plan. You can accomplish this by adding more doors or windows. The following are necessary for these exits:
    • Windows: When serving as emergency exits, windows should be big enough to allow a person to escape and simple enough to open without the need for equipment. The minimal dimensions and positioning specifications guarantee a prompt and secure evacuation for the inhabitants.
    • Common Exit: If a separate exit is not practical, both units may share a common exit as long as it has a 30-minute fire separation and smoke alarms that are linked and service both units.


How to Get the Right Permits


Process of Obtaining a Building Permit

  1. Consultation: To begin, find out the specifications for your project from the local municipal building and planning authorities.
  2. Application Submission: Send in a comprehensive application for a building permit, including all required paperwork and thorough construction drawings.
  3. Review Period: Your application is examined by the building department to ensure that it complies with the local zoning restrictions and the Ontario Building Code.
  4. Issuance of Permit: Your building permit will be issued to you if it is granted. Otherwise, you might have to edit and submit your ideas again.


Construction Drawings and Permit Fees

  • Construction Drawings: Must include floor plans, elevations, and system details. These should be prepared by a qualified professional.
  • Permit Fees: Based on project size and scope, typically calculated per square footage and estimated construction cost. Check with your local building department for specific fees.


Building Inspections and Stages of Construction Review

Your project will undergo several inspections at different construction stages:

  1. Pre-Construction Inspection: Before construction begins.
  2. Framing Inspection: After framing is complete but before it is covered.
  3. Insulation Inspection: Before drywall installation.
  4. Plumbing and Electrical Inspections: To verify installations.
  5. Final Inspection: Upon project completion.


Responsibilities of the Owner or Agent During Inspections

  • Scheduling Inspections: Notify the building department when stages are ready for inspection.
  • Presence During Inspections: Be present or ensure your agent is available during inspections.
  • Compliance: Address any issues identified by the inspector and schedule re-inspections if necessary.


Zoning Requirements and Municipal By-laws


Importance of Understanding Municipal Zoning By-laws

Zoning restrictions in the area control what may be constructed and where which affects your ability to build a second residential unit. Understanding these guidelines enables you to organize your project within the bounds of the law and steer clear of any problems that can impede or postpone your goals.


Parking Requirements

Zoning by-laws often include parking requirements for additional dwelling units:

  • Parking Spaces: Ensure you provide adequate parking spaces as required by your municipality, which may affect the layout of your property.


Potential Need for Rezoning or Minor Variances

If your property doesn’t comply with existing zoning by-laws, you might need to apply for:

  • Rezoning: A more extensive process that changes the zoning classification of your property.
  • Minor Variances: Smaller adjustments to specific by-law provisions, typically easier and quicker than rezoning.


Licensing and Registration with the Municipality

Some municipalities require additional steps:

  • Licensing: You may need to obtain a rental license for your basement apartment.
  • Registration: Registering the unit with the local municipality ensures it meets all legal requirements and is officially recognized.



Documentation to Prove Legality

To verify the validity of your basement apartment, you need to compile and preserve the following documents:

  • ESA Validation: This Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) certificate attests to the fact that all electrical work done in the apartment complies with safety requirements.
  • Certificate of Fire: This certificate, issued by the local fire service, attests to the basement apartment’s compliance with fire safety laws.
  • Document of Compliance: According to this document, your basement apartment has been registered and complies with all zoning and construction regulations in the area.


Consequences of Renting an Illegal Basement Apartment

Renting a basement apartment that isn’t legal might have serious repercussions.

  • Penalties and Fines: Individuals who violate the law may face fines of up to $25,000.
  • Legal Actions: Tenants affected by an unauthorized suite may sue the landlord, which might lead to additional penalties and legal action.
  • Costs of Eviction and Modifications: You may be required to cover the costs of evicting the tenants and making costly code-compliant modifications before the apartment is allowed to be legally rented.



Complying with zoning by-laws, safety standards, and construction rules is necessary to legally own and rent out a basement apartment. You can build a legitimate and useful living space by following the steps in this guide, which include contacting local officials, getting permission, making sure the basement is renovated correctly, and keeping records.

The advantages are substantial, including more revenue, a higher property value, and improved tenant safety. You and your renters are shielded from potential risks and legal headaches when your basement apartment complies with all health and safety regulations.

We recommend you get familiar with the process and seek professional assistance. Founded in 2002, The Home Improvement People is here to help with awards that specialize in home improvements, particularly completing basements. Contact us right now to receive a free quote!