Tryign to discern if your Toronto property holds the potential for a legal laneway suite? Here's what you need to know!
In the summer of last year, the City of Toronto began allowing Laneway Housing, albeit in a confined area (thus far). Approved in June 2018, it took a few months 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 has come a lot of questions regarding 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 minutae! So, in the interest of creating a distilled verision, 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.
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.
The new guidelines apply inside the boundaries of the City of Toronto and East York Community Council zones (roughly Parkside/Keele St in the West to Victoria Park in the East and - note it gets highly irregular - from Lake Ontario up to just North of Dupont, with a jog East to Winona, North to Eglinton Ave across to Bayview, jogging South to Overlea and going East to Victoria Park). Unfortunately, this means that if your property is in North Toronto, Etobicoke, Scarborough or farther, these rules do not apply to you quite yet. Here are two maps:
Image courtesy of Toronto City Planning ‘Changing Lanes’ Presentation, May 2, 2018
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
Laneway Suites do not require parking spaces for cars, although they do require a minimum of two bike parking spaces either inside or within a setback. In addition to this, any lot containing a Laneway Suite does not require parking spaces at all. However, under the City’s current policies regarding issuance of street permit parking, should the owner of a property elect to construct a laneway suite and choose to remove the on-site parking space from their lot, they are not entitled to receive an on-street permit to replace their parking in instances where they are in an oversubscribed street parking area. If there is sufficient space on the property, the owner may incorporate a parking space within the laneway suite or elsewhere on the property, subject to any requirements related to the location of the space.
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!
Images courtesy of Toronto City Planning ‘Changing Lanes’ Presentation, May 2, 2018
What is the Approvals Process like for Laneway Suites?
These by-law amendments are good news for property owners in Toronto and East York. 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 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 common place - 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 November 2017 - Home Of The Month - Scarborough) 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.
As Urbaneer continues to explore laneway housing including conversations with different parties, one thing becomes 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 on 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 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 on 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." **
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.
If you want to read more about the ongoing appeal to the city to change the zoning bylaws set out in the Official PLan approve in June of 2018, read: Official Plan Amendment and Zoning Amendment – Final Report.
*** 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. ***
Thanks for reading!
Did you find this helpful? Here's some of my past blogs related to Toronto real estate, renovation and development:
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