Monday 17 November 2014

Are basement apartments legal in Brampton?

Basement Apartments

History of basement apartments in BramptonClick here   for important information for home owners

In 1994, the Government of Ontario proclaimed Bill 120, which permitted second units in houses. The bill permitted the units, despite Brampton’s municipal zoning bylaws, if the units met health and fire safety standards.
On November 16, 1995, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 20, restoring to municipalities the right to outlaw basement apartments. Bill 20 became effective on May 22, 1996.
Bill 20 prohibited new apartments in houses after May 22, 1996. The bill allowed homeowners to keep apartments in houses that tenants or other residents occupied on or before November 16, 1995 – if they conform to the requirements of the original Bill 20. It also allowed apartments that homeowners built between November 16, 1995 and May 22, 1996 if the City issued a building permit.

Bill 140 and Changes to the Planning Act

In 2010, the Province of Ontario introduced Bill 140: Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 201. Bill 140 amended various sections of the Planning Act requiring municipalities to implement official plan policies and zoning by-law provisions that allow basement apartments (second units) in detached, semi-detached and townhouses, or as accessory units. The changes to the Planning Act came into effect on January 1, 2012; however, the Province has not specified a deadline by which municipalities are required to bring their respective planning documents into conformity with Bill 140. 
The City of Brampton has initiated a policy review to implement policies in the Official Plan and performance standards in the Zoning By-law. For further information, please visit the Second Unit Policy Review  page.  

What is a basement apartment (or “secondary suite”)?

A basement apartment is a self-contained apartment consisting of a room or rooms in a single or semidetached house. A basement apartment may be in any part of the house, not necessarily in the basement. Some people call these apartments granny flats, nanny suites, accessory apartments and second suites. The City’s bylaw refers to them as "residential units."
A self-contained apartment must have a separate means of entry (which may be through another unit), a kitchen (or cooking area) and bathroom facilities. A self-contained apartment may be as small as a single room that contains all of these features.
However, if you rent a room in a house or a flat with a shared entrance, kitchen and bathroom facilities, this bylaw does not apply to you.

Are basement apartments legal in Brampton?

About 3,000 homes in Brampton have legal basement apartments that homeowners built after the Government proclaimed Bill 120. For these units to be legal, the owners had to have built them before November 16, 1995 and the owners had to have registered them with the City of Brampton before January 31, 2006 or they had to have legal non-conforming status.
Any basement apartments that owners have built since November 16, 1995 are illegal in the City of Brampton.
A single or semidetached registered home can only have one basement apartment. The City strictly prohibits homes that owners have subdivided into more than two units, unless the City has specifically zoned the property to permit multiple units. The City has zoned very few properties as triplexes.
Basement apartments will continue to require a rezoning application until policies and zoning by-law provisions to permit them are in place.   

How safe are legally registered basement apartments in Brampton?

All legal registered basement apartments in Brampton had to comply with the Building Code and Fire Code when the City approved them. If the owner afterwards modified the home or added more units, the owner would have had to get a building permit and arrange for City staff to inspect the property before construction could begin.

What should I know before buying a home with a basement apartment?

Your real estate agent or lawyer must confirm with the City that a home for sale has a legally registered basement apartment or is legally non-conforming and complies with the Building and Fire Codes.
A code of conduct requires real estate agents to fully and fairly disclose all information about a property for sale. Typically, real estate agents use the caution “Vendor does not warrant retrofit status” when listing homes with doubtful legal status. Consumers should seek further legal advice before offering to buy these homes.

Benefits of a legal basement apartment:

Peace of mind – By having the City authorize a second suite, you will know you did all that you could to make a safe healthy home for you and your tenant.
Reduced liability – You can get adequate insurance coverage.
Improved relationships – A legal and safe second suite is likely to improve relationships with your tenants, your neighbours and with the City.

Risks of an illegal or unsafe basement apartment:

Increased liability – You, as a homeowner, are responsible for meeting established standards for a second suite. If anything, such as a fire, happens, you would be liable, because you failed to meet requirements.
Loss of insurance coverage – Building a rental unit in your home is a major change to your home. If you don’t let your insurance provider know that you have changed how you are using your home, you could, in fact, make your coverage “null and void”. (This means that you would no longer have any insurance coverage.)
Limited damage recovery – An insurance policy does not cover the costs for rebuilding your home to meet current standards. Your insurance company is only required to cover the costs of restoring your home to the state that it was in when you bought your policy, before any damage.
Prosecution -- If you do not meet City codes, you are breaking the law. You run the risk of being charged and can face fines of as much as $50,000 -- or even a year in prison — for each charge.
Financing – Banks and other lenders don’t generally consider income from an unauthorized basement apartment when you try to qualify for a mortgage loan.
Tenants – You are a landlord. You must maintain your basement apartment in good operating order and you must follow all fire safety laws. Tenants may apply to reduce their rent if the unit fails to meet municipal health, safety, maintenance and property standards.
Tenant insurance – Your homeowner’s policy will not cover property that a tenant of an unauthorized apartment owns.

Can I legally convert vacant space in my home into a basement apartment?

No. The City’s zoning bylaw does not permit new basement apartments. If you did not have a basement apartment in your home before November 16, 1995, you cannot add one. A home built after 1995 can never have a legal basement apartment.
You have to ask the City to change the zoning bylaw before it can permit a new basement apartment. Asking the City to change the zoning bylaw requires you to submit a zoning bylaw amendment application and a fee of $7,759 to the City’s Planning, Design and Development Department. The staff of the department will process your application and recommend whether City Council should approve your application to change the zoning bylaw.
The rezoning process includes:

1.City staff holding a public meeting to allow anyone living within 800 meters of your property -- or any other person interested in your application -- to comment.
2.You post a sign on the property, detailing the nature of your application.
3.City Council decides whether to approve or refuse to change the zoning.
You or anyone who attended the public meeting, expressed a view or made a written submission can appeal City Council’s decision on your zoning application to the Ontario Municipal Board. The zoning amendment process can take about six months to a year to complete.
For further information on how to apply for a zoning amendment, contact the Planning, Design and Development Department at 905-874-2090.

Can I still register an older home that had a basement apartment before November 16, 1995?

A home with a basement apartment that a previous owner had not registered with the City of Brampton may still have legal non-conforming status. Contact Enforcement and By-Law Services to determine whether the home has this status.
If City staff investigate the situation and discover enough evidence to prove that the home had a basement apartment before November 16, 1995, the staff can add your unit to the City’s Registration List -- if you have complied with the requirements under the Building Code and Fire Code and you have clearance from the Electrical Safety Authority. Converting and upgrading the apartment to meet standards may cost you more than $15,000. However, you may also qualify for a grants for converting your property through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
If staff do not find enough evidence that the home had a basement apartment before November 16, 1995, the City will require the homeowner to dismantle the unit or face prosecution.

Adnan Hashmi is a realtor. Adnan Hashmi Real Estate Broker

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