It’s no secret that basement suites (also known as secondary units) are a godsend for both renters and buyers who are dealing with an increasingly challenging housing market that’s tough to afford. For many people, a basement suite is the only dwelling they can reasonably afford and for homeowners, it’s what makes their mortgage and utility bills manageable.
Recently, Peel council discussed a proposal to provide loans of up to $50,000 to homeowners willing to construct registered secondary suites that will house lower-income residents sitting on Peel’s incredibly long affordable housing waitlist. While the initiative is good, it’ll only permit the construction of 18 new units.
While there’s a pervasive misconception that all basement apartments in Brampton and other Peel cities are illegal, that isn’t the case. Secondary units are permitted (and have been since 2015) in detached, semi-detached and townhouse dwellings. That said, not every secondary unit is registered and those that are not are, technically, illegal.
In most cases, a secondary unit includes a kitchen and bathroom that’s used exclusively by the tenant. If someone is staying in a room in a house and sharing a kitchen or bathroom with the homeowner, they are not considered a tenant in a secondary unit. In order for a basement or secondary suite to be legal, it must be registered with the city. There’s also some special criteria that the units must be abide by.
According to the city, the rules are as follows:
- Only one second unit is permitted per house
- In a bungalow, the second unit can be up to 75 per cent of the primary unit’s gross floor area. For all other homes, the second unit can be up to 45 per cent of the primary unit’s gross floor area.
- There must be one parking space set aside for the secondary unit tenant
- There must be a 1.2 metre clear path of travel to a door in the side or rear yard that provides access to a second unit
Before a unit can be registered, it must be inspected by the city to ensure it complies with the Ontario Building Code and/or Fire Cord. It must also be approved the Electrical Safety Authority and meet all zoning and property standards regulations.
If homeowners fail to register their units and are caught operating one, the fine can be severe–up to $25,000 for an individual(s) and $50,000 for a corporation.
At this juncture, evidence suggests there are significantly more illegal and unregistered units in the city than registered ones. At a time when the waiting list for affordable housing is staggering, it’s encouraging that the region is considering providing financial aid to homeowners who want to create a secondary unit that will be occupied by someone in desperate need of budget-friendly housing. It’s particularly encouraging because registering a unit could be considered expensive.
According to the city, homeowners must pay $200 for the initial review for zoning compliance. On top of that, the registration fee is $500 for an owner-occupied dwelling and $1,000 for a non-owner occupied space. The applicable building permit fees can cost up to $1,000.
So while the loan proposals are good, 18 units does seem relatively small in the grand scheme of things.
All that said, it might be worth it to register your unit if you have one–especially since you could be avoiding a hefty fine by doing so while providing (or continuing to provide) an affordable home for someone with a tighter budget.
For more info on registering a unit, click here.