The Province of Ontario enacted legislation in 2011 requiring municipalities to amend their official plan policies and zoning bylaw provisions to allow “second units” in detached, semi-detached and row houses. “Second units” are more commonly known as basement apartments or in-law suites. The province has also identified “ancillary structures” – garages, outbuildings – as possible locations for second units.
The purpose of the legislation is to increase the stock of affordable rental accommodation. The generally accepted definition of affordable housing is housing which costs less than 30 per cent of household income, regardless whether it is rent paid or the cost of home ownership.
In addition to providing more rental units, second units also provide benefits to the wider community:
• Homeowners have the opportunity to earn additional income. With mortgage rules tightening and possible interest rate hikes ahead, income from a basement apartment would help lighten a homeowner’s debt load.
• It creates more housing options for extended families, elderly parents or live-in caregivers. With an aging population and a move to providing care in the home atmosphere rather than hospitals, providing living space for family members or their caregivers is a positive step.
• Jobs are created in the construction/renovation industry. All secondary units will have to meet municipal safety and fire codes and property standards bylaws, so it is expected homeowners will use professional contractors and tradespeople to build the additional living space.
• In some urban centres like Burlington and Hamilton, there is little room for outward growth. Encouraging second suites is in step with the province’s policies for intensification to accommodate population growth, support enhanced public transit, and make the most efficient use of tax dollars on infrastructure.
The City of Burlington is one municipality which is ahead of the curve when it comes to enacting bylaws to increase the number of second units. Even before the provincial legislation was enacted in 2011, Burlington had passed a bylaw to allow residents in specific areas to build secondary units in their existing homes. There are about 25,000 properties which may be eligible to build secondary suites under the new bylaw, although the city expects only a fraction of them to be built. (While properties may be eligible, there are still bylaws and certain restrictions that would affect whether or not second units could be built.)
Hamilton is still waiting for its official plan to be approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) before it can begin working on the zoning bylaws which would accommodate second units. Hamilton does have a stated goal to increase housing intensity, and it is expected that second units will play a role in moving toward that goal.
Interested in knowing if you can build an in-law suite or apartment? Contact the bylaw department of your own municipality for details about your area.