Basement Apartment – Thinking About Building One?

Posted by admin | Apartments,Articles,Building,Opinion,Tips | Sunday 4 March 2007 4:04 am
Tip: Use all your resources. Apartments are listed in newspapers, free magazines, small ads, and even ?for rent? signs in the front yard.

This article is intended for discussion purposes only and not as a code interpretation. For specific articles and conformance, please consult the Ontario Fire Code, Retrofit Section 9.8 of the Ontario Building Code.

We have prepared a list of some of the things you should be thinking about, if you’re considering construction of a self-contained apartment within your home. The regulatory information was current as of 1996, however may be subject to change at any time. Consult with your local Building Code Official or Fire Department for up-to-date regulations.

Most existing two-unit houses (built before Nov. 16, 1995) will be “grandfathered” (continue to be allowed) under the new legislation, provided they meet applicable municipal planning standards. As well, two unit houses should have met Fire Code requirements by July 14, 1996. In general, new apartments must comply with the Building Code, and existing apartments must comply with the Fire Code. Both new and existing apartments must comply with certain property and municipal zoning (planning) standards.

Tip: Ask about service locations around the apartment. Find out things such as, how far it is to the supermarket, the gas station, the bank, restaurants, and public transportation.

Get it in writing!

It would appear your best protection is to obtain a certificate of compliance from the local fire department for any property that might fall under the jurisdiction of the Fire Code, Section 9.8. You should obtain a building permit before starting any new construction. If you don’t obtain a permit, or a certificate of compliance, the dwelling unit could possibly be non-conforming, and therefore considered illegal.

Also, municipalities have the right to decide where they will allow homes to have additional dwelling units and can designate areas where they will not allow homes to have additional dwelling units. Units installed after November 16, 1995 without a permit are unprotected (even if they meet fire, safety & electrical standards) and the municipality could require removal of the unit.

Tip: Find out how much the rent is, and all the financial details therein. This is very important for comparing apartments.

What to consider when building your apartment:

* Walls/floors/ceilings should be covered with materials with a 30 minute fire rating (eg. drywall); or materials with a 15 minute fire rating and interconnected smoke alarms, throughout all dwellings in the house.

* New! Ontario, 1998: All homeowners must maintain smoke detectors on every elevation, even if the dwelling is not rented or sub-let. Check with your local, provincial or state authority to confirm requirements for smoke detectors in your area.

Tip: Visit the apartment. Too many people sign on the dotted line without ever actually seeing the apartment or the neighborhood.

* Materials not rated for fire protection are not recommended, and usually require installation of a sprinkler system throughout all dwellings in the house.

* A private entrance must be provided, and the route must not involve entering another dwelling. A second means of exit must be provided, which can be another door or a window easily accessible and unobstructed.

Tip: Ask about children and pets. Some apartments may not allow children.

Before renting an existing apartment in your home:

* If the apartment was built after Nov.16, 1995, was a permit issued?

* Is there a certificate of compliance in existence from Ontario Hydro? From the local fire department?

* Are there interconnected fire alarms?

* What size is the electrical service? Is there enough “ampacity” (capacity) to support two separate living units?

Before building an apartment within your home:

* Consult Section 9.8 of the Building Code, to determine the possibility and/or practicality of your project.

Tip: See what kind of changes you can make to your apartment. Some landlords allow their tenants to paint walls, or change certain appliances or carpeting.

* Apply for a building permit.

* Consult with local fire and building officials, before actually starting construction, to ensure that your apartment will pass their inspections.


* There are some private inspection firms who are attempting to capitalize on this opportunity by advertising themselves as basement apartment or fire code specialists. Don’t be fooled. Municipal Building & Fire Departments are the only organizations that have the authority to determine what constitutes code compliance.

What’s this going to cost?

* Building Permit Costs vary – check with local authority.

* Ontario Hydro Inspection $72.00

Tip: Additionally, when you are visiting the apartment, do not be afraid of scrutinizing every aspect of the apartment. Look for cracks, bugs, dirty spots, and any other flaws.

* Fire Dept. Code Inspection $142.00 (typical/average)

* The estimated cost to upgrade or correct an existing basement apartment can be as high as $15,000.00!

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The regulatory information in this article was current as of 1996, however may be subject to change as any time. Consult with your local Building Code Official or Fire Department for up-to-date regulations.

Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office:

Copyright Gil Strachan – All rights reserved.Gil Strachan is a professional home inspector, representing Electrospec Home Inspection Services in east-central Ontario, Canada since 1994. Visit to learn more about home inspections.

“The Home Reference Book” You can probably find a home inspection for a little less than what we ask, but you probably won’t find the Home Reference Book. A $60 value, this solutions-oriented reference tool comes free with every inspection we perform. It’s the first tool you should have around the house!

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