What should I look for when purchasing a property with laneway suite potential?
Real estate waits for no one in today’s heated market. In a climate where a home can be listed, offered on, and sold in a matter of hours, it can sometimes be difficult to do adequate due diligence before making a purchase. Knowing the high-level requirements for laneway development can streamline your process and put you in the best position for a successful investment. Our team has outlined five key criteria for narrowing down your list of potential properties, so you have confidence in your purchase well before you make an offer.
We are often approached by prospective home buyers seeking a property that can accommodate a laneway suite whether it be in the immediate or long-term future. Laneway suites are a perfect solution to housing loved ones close by or creating additional revenue to offset carrying costs.
Determining a lot’s eligibility can be overwhelming to the average homebuyer as zoning by-laws, building code requirements and private tree by-laws can all factor into if and what you can construct. We always recommend consulting with an experienced professional to confirm a property’s laneway potential, however there are a few key items that you can look for in narrowing your search criteria:
- Is the property zoned as Residential use in the City of Toronto?
- Does the Property abut a publicly designated laneway?
- Does the property have adequate width and depth?
- Does the property have adequate access for emergency personnel?
- What other features are on the property that may limit my laneway suite development?
Residential Zoning in the City of Toronto
In August of 2019, the municipality expanded the laneway suite by-law permissions to the entire city, including Etobicoke, Toronto and East York, Scarborough, and North York. The only exemption to this is a relatively small area North of Yorkville, bordered by Bloor St West, Avenue Road, Marlborough Ave. and Yonge St. Unfortunately, if your property is within these boundaries, you would not qualify.
To be eligible for a laneway suite, the property must also be Residentially zoned. Lots that are designated R, RD, RS, RT, RM would comply, whereas properties with Commercial or Commercial-Residential zoning designations would not. Generally, most single-family homes in neighbourhoods are residentially designated. When evaluating a listing, you can easily determine the zoning designation by searching the address in the city’s zoning by-law map, or you can send our team an email to confirm.
Abutting a Public Laneway
Naturally, in order to build a laneway suite, the property must abut a publicly designated laneway. The by-law requires that this abutment be no less than 3.5m, on a side or rear lot line. Taking this into account, unfortunately corner lots facing two streets would not qualify. Similarly, in the unique case where a lot backs onto a public street, the property would not qualify. Unfortunately, through driveways also would not be considered a public laneway.
In some cases, a lot may have a public access route to the rear that may not be publicly designated. These are typically considered right-of-ways or easements across private lands that provide mutual access to neighbours. Public laneways are typically paved and have light stands, telecom poles, and storm water management throughout. If you are unsure of the laneway designation, do not hesitate to send us an email and our team would be happy to confirm one way or another. This designation is also easily confirmed by reviewing a survey of the property, so we encourage asking the listing agent if there is a survey available.
Adequate Rear Width and Depth
There is no minimum width or depth for a laneway suite prescribed by the zoning by-laws, so long as the lot abuts a laneway for at least 3.5m. However, in order to achieve a reasonably sized living space while maintaining flexibility for living space and a parking garage (if desired), we recommend a minimum lot width of 4.6m (15’-0”). Note the laneway suite by-laws permit a maximum building width of 8.0m (26’-3”).
A deeper lot does not necessarily result in a larger laneway suite. The key dimension in determining the depth of a laneway build is the available rear yard depth, measured from the rear main wall of the existing house to the rear lot line. This dimension is taken from the rear most wall of the building supporting a roof. As such, porches, decks and other unenclosed structures do not impact this dimension. In some cases, it may be advantageous to remove an existing single storey extension on the main house to achieve a greater laneway suite depth. Our team typically recommends a rear yard depth of at least 15.3m (50’-0”) to accommodate a well-sized two storey laneway suite while complying with the required setbacks and separations. Note the laneway suite by-laws permit a maximum building depth of 10.0m (32’-10”).
Adequate Emergency Access
Unlike a traditional street-facing home, a laneway suite must be accessible in the event of an emergency either via a dedicated walkway from the front street, or from an abutting street via the laneway. Your property must comply with one of these two options:
- A minimum 0.9m wide by 2.1m high, level, unobstructed walkway from the front street to the principal entrance of the laneway suite at the rear yard. Note this walkway is ideally within your property lines, however can be shared with your neighbour by entering into a Limiting Distance Agreement.
- An access route from an abutting street via the laneway that does not exceed 90m measured from the street curb to the principal entrance of the laneway suite at the laneway. Note if this access route is longer than 45m, you will be required to provide additional fire mitigating design provisions such as a fire alarm, sprinklers, or other protection measures. More information on these requirements can be found here.
The width of your side yard walkway can be determined by reviewing a survey or site plan, if there is one available. The distance to an abutting street via the laneway can also be determined by sending our team an email with the property address.
Additional Impediments to Development
The most common impediment to developing a laneway suite on an eligible property is the existence of mature protected trees. The City of Toronto’s private tree by-law stipulates that any tree larger than 0.30m in diameter requires a permit to remove, or encroach into a prescribed protection zone that correlates with the size of the tree. While laneway suites are an encouraged typology, it is critical that these developments do not come at the expense of depleting our urban forest canopy. When evaluating a property, consider any large trees that are within a 6.0m distance from the property. While a protected tree does not necessarily disqualify a lot for a laneway suite, it is important to determine whether an application for an injury or removal will be required and how this will impact the buildable area of the suite.
A lot’s topography (slope and elevations) can also have an impact on the building cost, location and many other factors in the design and construction. When assessing a property with a significant change in grade, consult a professional on how this may affect your approach, whether positively or negatively.
Overhead wires, light stands and poles may also impact the development potential. In most cases, overhead lines are for telecommunications services (Rogers, Bell etc), so these are easily relocated or removed with little-to-no cost. However, where there are power lines, or service poles within the property lines, it is always best to consult with a professional on the options on how best to approach the situation.
While there are many factors to consider, determining a property’s eligibility can be relatively straight forward by applying the key concepts to your search. There are several resources available to the average homeowner to assist with confirming a lot’s eligibility as well. Our team offers free property reports that confirm a lot’s eligibility and approximate a buildable footprint alongside project examples of a similar size. If you would like a report please send us the address, and our team will provide a full document within a matter of hours – no site visit or fee required. Consider us a resource. In the meantime, happy hunting! We look forward to helping you find your dream laneway property.