Finally!! The City of Toronto is now allowing Laneway Housing, albeit in a confined area thus far. Approved in June, it took the entire summer for the city to post by-laws as they pertain to this new housing type, which the real estate industry, property owners, and potential developers/end users are now assessing. As a realtor working in the original City of Toronto for 26 years (including all of the city's geographic boundaries for laneway housing), I can assure you the interest is enormous. In fact, I already have Buyer clients keen to secure an underutilized property with laneway housing potential!
With this development are a lot of questions by owners and potential buyers regarding the specifics of creating laneway housing in Toronto, most surrounding what the new rules and limitations are for building a second domicile on a lot. Sifting through the packages on the city's 'Changing Lanes' website isn't difficult, but there's a lot of minutiae! So, in the interest of creating a distilled version, I reached out to architecture firm Sustainable for their take. I'm a big fan of Sustainable, who have helped me realize my vision for my own semi-detached purpose-built 60s duplex in Riverdale, documented in my Tales Of Tennis Crescent blog. The bulk of the renovations will include extending the second floor and adding a third-floor addition. The Toronto-based architectural firm is committed to delivering "healthy, affordable, and energy-efficient solutions", and, given my propensity to be 'high-design' (meaning I jammed a lot of inefficient expensive steel and glass cubes to my house in my original concept), they've helped edit my vision into one that is straightforward (read 'more economical') in its construction program, efficient in its space plan, and incorporates local sustainable materials while still reflecting my aesthetic. With the Building Permit ready to go on my house (which, incidentally, does not have a laneway - boo!), the real work will be starting soon! If you're a fan of renovation blogs, stay tuned for more of my own journey renovating this Swell Dwell!
Here's Sustainable's summary, which answers the most important questions Torontonians might have about Laneway Housing and serves as a great primer for anyone looking to build a laneway suite.
Laneway Suites in Toronto: An Overview
If you follow the news about Toronto’s municipal design guidelines and by-laws as avidly as we do here at Sustainable, you may have heard about some recent changes relating to Laneway Suites. We’re here with a primer on the new regulations and what they mean to you.
Please note that this post is meant as an overview of the new bylaw amendments. For details and comprehensive information, visit the City’s website or call Sustainable.
What are Laneway Suites?
On June 28th, 2018, Toronto City Council passed a series of Official Plan and By-law amendments permitting laneway suites within certain zones in the City. These amendments create as-of-right guidelines that allow laneway suites to be built under certain circumstances without requiring variances through the Committee of Adjustment. Over the summer of 2019, the geographic area that the by-law covers was extended to cover the entire City of Toronto.
A Laneway Suite is defined as:
“a self-contained living accommodation for a person or persons living together as a separate single housekeeping unit, in which both food preparation and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the suite and is in an ancillary building abutting a lane.”
Permitted uses include home occupations and short-term rentals (as long as the laneway suite is exclusively and separately occupied as a principal residence). No more than one Laneway Suite is permitted on a lot, but having an existing Secondary Suite inside the Principal Residential Building has no bearing on Laneway Suite inclusion. Laneway Suites are intended to be subsidiary to the Principal Residential Building on a lot, meaning that at this time it is not possible under these guidelines to sever a property and create a separate residential unit in a Laneway Suite.
This provides an amazing opportunity for property owners to unlock hidden value in their own backyards and simultaneously enables the city to increase density in transit-accessible neighbourhoods with minimal intervention.
Before the passing of these amendments, the process of building a Laneway Suite was difficult, if not impossible. Now, thanks to the Changing Lanes initiative, Laneway Suites can be built as-of-right in many cases.
Where can Laneway Suites be built?
Before embarking on the design of a Laneway Suite, it is important to know if your lot meets the requirements set out by the new By-law amendments. Recent amendments to the by-laws have enabled laneway suites to become available in every residential zone in Toronto.
If your property is inside the noted boundary, is at least 3.5 metres wide at the rear, abuts a lane by 3.5 metres or more, and allows for a maximum travel distance of 45 metres for emergency services (either through side lot clearance of at least 1 metre or proximity of the Suite's entrance to a public street) ..... good news! Your property may qualify for the development of a Laneway Suite. For those people in the middle of rowhouse units (with no side lot clearance), in the middle of a block (which is more than 45 metres from a public street), you may be out of luck. For now, that is.
What are the Design Requirements for Laneway Suites?
Just like principal residences, Laneway Suites are subject to a number of complex and sometimes overlapping zoning requirements. There are requirements for setbacks from property lines, separation from the principal residence, and soft landscaping for the property. There are also specific guidelines for building height based on the size and layout of your existing dwelling, and restrictions on the shape (or even existence) of the second storey if the Laneway Suite is too close to the Principal Residential Building. Some leeway is given for encroachment into the building separation by decks and canopies, and some flexibility is built into the process by not counting the floor area of a Laneway Suite against the total allowed on a lot.
Image courtesy of Sustainable
There are certain aspects of the by-law that offers some additional flexibility in design. The floor area of Laneway Suites do not count against the total floor area allowed on the lot. Laneway Suites do not require a parking space for cars, although they do require a minimum of two bike parking spaces within the buildable footprint allowed by the setbacks (inside or outside the building). In addition to this, any lot containing a Laneway Suite does not require parking spaces at all. So, there’s no need to worry about getting into trouble if you give up a garage parking space to create a suite.
These requirements may seem confusing, but to the trained professional they sketch out the boundaries of permitted spaces in a way that is relatively clear for the first time in respect to Laneway Suites. Knowing the rules allows for site-specific interpretations and creative solutions to be applied. At Sustainable, we have experience making the most out of complex lot restrictions – we love a good challenge!
Image courtesy of Sustainable - View The Project
What is the Approvals Process like for Laneway Suites?
These by-law amendments are good news for property owners in Toronto. They lay out a set of as-of-right guidelines for Laneway Suites – meaning that if you follow these guidelines you can build a Laneway Suite without requiring any variances. Given that timelines for the Committee of Adjustment can run upwards of four to five months (even for simple minor variances), this is a major hurdle that no longer needs to be cleared.
That being said, not every project is going to align perfectly with as-of-right guidelines. Some Laneway suites will still require variances. The City’s Official Plan suggests that variances can be sought under the following circumstances:
· to meet accessible building standards
· to meet Tier 2 of the Toronto Green Standards
· to accommodate a Laneway Suite within an existing ancillary building
· to avoid the removal or damaging of a protected tree
In these cases, a visit to the Committee of Adjustment would be required, but the variances would pertain to the specific encroachments of the By-law, rather than the entirety of the Laneway Suite project.
Once all of the City’s zoning requirements are met, the project proceeds to a building permit review to ensure compliance with the Ontario Building Code. From there the project is free to proceed the same as any other residential building.
As with any building or renovation project, Laneway Suites are likely to experience bumps in the road, but the recent amendments to the City’s By-law have made the process drastically less complicated. Many lucky property owners in Toronto and East York now have the potential as-of-right to increase the value of their property and to create space for growing families, long-term tenants, or short-term visitors.
If you are interested in exploring the opportunities in your laneway, contact Sustainable for a consultation.
~ Brad Tapson
MArch • email@example.com
943 Queen Street East,
Canada, M4M 1J6
Pretty neato, eh?
As a realtor, the most frequently asked question by Sellers is "What's my laneway access now worth?". Unfortunately, it's impossible to quantify as a generality, given the first step one must make is determine exactly how large a Laneway House can be built. In my blog called Exploring Toronto Real Estate Property Values I break down the three approaches to valuing property - being the Market Value Approach, Income Approach and Land + Development Cost Approach. Here you'd use the Income Approach to see how much additional income a Laneway House in that location would generate to the property and extrapolate it against building costs, taking into account whether you're losing parking space(s) knowing they currently have a value (though this value will depreciate as Self-Driving Cars and their proposed central hub systems become commonplace - apparently as soon as 15 years). If you're taking the Income Approach you might also determine how much your current dwelling would earn as-is, or divided into more than one unit to establish how much an Investor might pay for the site, knowing that cap rates are shifting (and impacted by The Other Side Of Rent Control And Toronto Real Estate).
Personally, I see this as-of-right accessory dwelling being really helpful for multi-generational families (explored in more detail in Dear Urbaneer: What Are The Important Considerations Surrounding Multi-Generational Housing? as well as existing owners who opt to build a laneway house for their own personal occupancy while turning the current dwelling into an income supplement.
** Addendum December 6th 2018 ** As I continue to explore laneway housing and have conversations with different parties, one thing has become very apparent. The City is very non-committal when one inquires about a specific site in question at the Zoning Department. There was a time where they would give you specific guidance but those days appear to be over. This lack of commitment is making it very uncertain for prospective purchasers to be confident in moving forward with a purchase where the objective is to add laneway housing to a property. Furthermore, apparently the policy was introduced without full input by the Toronto Fire Department, who have indicated that where-ever the front door to the laneway suite is located (on the laneway side or the garden side of a property), the front door must be a minimum 45 metres from a street and from this point a maximum of 45 metres to a fire hydrant unobstructed. This distance is increased to 90 metres if the laneway suite is sprinklered, then it must be 45 metres from the Siamese connection to the closest fire hydrant).**
** Addendum January 10, 2019 ** Here's an article by the Globe & Mail - Ontario Clears Building-Code Roadblock To Laneway Home Development - which details a major win for a homeowner who has been struggling through red tape to build a laneway suite. He was previously blocked by "fire safety requirements – which are not subject to minor variance appeals – [that were] ambiguous and overly onerous." However, just before Christmas, the Building Code Commission (BCC) found in favour of the homeowner, allowing him to use automatic sprinklers to address the perceived fire risks flagged by city officials. While this sets an important precedent for future applicants, the policy won’t formally change until "the city and the fire department sign a new memorandum of understanding." **
** Addendum July 8th, 2020 ** As a realtor working in the original City of Toronto for 28 years (including all of the original City of Toronto's geographic boundaries for laneway housing), I'm being contacted weekly by existing property owners trying to determine whether a laneway dwelling makes sense for their particular property, or by prospective purchasers seeking a site that can accommodate their particular laneway vision. However, I've discovered the 'as-of-right' criteria for a laneway dwelling is actually quite limiting, in particular, because a property has to be within 45 metres of a fire hydrant and have a 1-metre wide right-of-way between existing dwellings. In the original City of Toronto where the inclusionary zone is situated, the propensity for narrow city lots with limited side access (often 30 to 36 inches), makes finding a property that complies quite rare to find. Certainly, there are sites which do meet the criteria, but when one goes to City Hall to confirm the powers that be refuse to offer any guidance or assurance. Instead, they say a full application with appropriate documentation (basically detailed drawings + survey) must be submitted and processed through the appropriate channels. Unfortunately, because the demand for property is strong, and dwellings can sell in days rather than weeks, it's unnecessary for sellers to sell their property conditional on an approval process for a laneway dwelling which could take 60 to 120 days plus. As a result, although there are Buyers keen to embrace laneway living, the lack of a streamlined approvals process for laneway housing renders it impossible for risk-averse Buyers to secure suitable sites. For now, Toronto's laneway housing is an opportunity limited to property owners moreso than those seeking a site to build laneway housing.
** Addendum September 1st, 2020 ** A post by Laneway Housing Advisors called - Seller Of Laneway House-Eligible Property Receives Offer – But It’s Conditional On The LDA - The post addresses how two property owners who share a right-of-way to their back yards that is 1 metre wide or more spanning both parcels of land can enter into a Limiting Distance Agreement that allows an Emergency Access Route for firefighters and other emergency services if required. The article says "Very late in 2019, the City of Toronto put in place a mechanism to still allow for this emergency access path, even when it is shared between two property owners. It’s called a Limiting Distance Agreement, or LDA. It allows the two neighbours to register an agreement on the title of both homes, similar to an easement agreement, but in this case strictly for the purposes of emergency access to the laneway house. The idea is, that once this LDA is in place, it’s designed to prevent either homeowner from making modifications to their homes that would in any way encroach on this 1.0m emergency pathway. So in perpetuity, the LDA ensures that as long as this pathway is identified as the emergency access route to the laneway house, there will be no obstacles restricting the size of this pathway". In this article, it speaks of a property owner getting an offer conditional on the seller entering into an LDA with the next-door neighbour prior to closing. This demonstrates one of the challenges with creating laneway homes, which is not for the faint of heart, but certainly comes with the ultimate reward of increasing density for personal or income offset. **
Images courtesy of Toronto City Planning ‘Changing Lanes’ Presentation, May 2, 2018
At the moment, no development charges are payable to build a laneway suite, but if you were to later apply to the city to sever the parcel (not legally allowed at this moment in time), or to convert the site into condominiums, then development fees would be retroactive. Development fees are costly - and increasing - since I last wrote about in The Pitfalls Of Permit Fees And Toronto Real Estate. Here's the link to the City Of Toronto Building Permit Fee page which says a Building Permit for a new build is $17.16 per square meter.
*** Here's a July 2019 Huffington Post article that examines Toronto laneway housing potential anew: Laneway Homes Could Transform 310 Km Of Toronto's Underused Spaces. The City of Toronto did subsequently approve this***
Did you find this helpful? Here's some of my past blogs related to Toronto real estate, renovation and development:
If you, or someone you love, has specific real estate needs, wishes and desires, and would enjoy the personalized service of someone Celebrating Twenty-Five Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor who subscribes to a pressure-free approach - and a specialty in unique and charming urban homes - please know my team and I are here to help!
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
*Like what you've read? Did you know we were recently listed as one of The Top 25 Toronto Real Estate Agents To Follow On Twitter, The Top 50 Blogs On Toronto and the Top 100 Real Estate Blogs In Canada!!? Consider signing up in the box below to receive our FREE monthly e-newsletter on housing, culture and design including our love for unique urban homes and other Toronto real estate!
*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve's Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, product and real estate in Canada!