If, as mentioned in Part 1, a house had an accessory suite in existence during the Rae years (1994 to 1996), the suite MAY automatically have legal, non-confirming by-law status however, the onus is on the owner to prove it. In addition, fire code regulations must be met. In making an offer on such a property, Buyers need to ensure that the appropriate conditions and clauses are inserted into their offers to confirm that these requirements have been met otherwise, they may be buying into a costly dream that could easily become a nightmare.
According to the Town of Collingwood’s Official Plan section on Single Family Conversions, accessory apartments are permitted subject to certain conditions:
They must be located within a single family, detached dwelling and must be an integral part of the main house
They must be smaller than the main dwelling unit
They must be serviced
There is a limit of one accessory unit per home
They must have an extra parking space
Must be self contained with a private entry and kitchen
Under the new Collingwood zoning by-law passed last spring, if these conditions are met and, if the accessory unit does not exceed 40% of the gross-floor area of the building, then there is no longer a need for a zoning by-law amendment. Again, Buyers should not assume that an existing accessory apartment complies with zoning regulations and should put appropriate clauses in offers to deal with these. These should also include a request for a current fire inspection report.
In regard to new construction or renovation of a suite in a home, it must comply with today’s building and fire codes and, if on septic system, with the Health Unit requirements as well. Development charges do not apply when adding an accessory apartment but owners need to obtain a building permit BEFORE construction begins to ensure that ceiling and window opening requirements, access, mechanical and ventilation systems, fire separation rules and so on are all complied with. For example, some of the basic, specific requirements under the rules say that:
The ceiling height must be at least 6’11” (6’5” under beams)
½” drywall on walls and ceilings
30 minute fire separations between the unit and any common areas
20 minute, fire-rated, self-closing doors
Egress window openings of 3’8”2 and at least 15” opening for each dimension
Vents have to be directed outside
All rooms need to be naturally or mechanically ventilated
Sprinklers are required in unfinished mechanical rooms
There must be working smoke detectors on every level of the house
If you are considering the purchase of a home with an accessory apartment (often slyly referred to as an in-law suite) with the intention of renting it out, don’t assume what you see is legal. You run the risk of having a complaint or inspection triggered that could result in your having to rip out or seriously modify the suite. Take the better route of putting the onus on the current owner to provide you with verification that the suite has legal status and meets a recent fire code inspection.
Marg Scheben-Edey is a Broker with RE/MAX four seasons realty limited, Brokerage in beautiful Collingwood, ON. With three decades of experience, Marg is a leader in the local real estate marketplace and is ready to help guide both Buyers and Sellers in achieving their real estate goals. Email Marg