August 2019 marks the one-year anniversary of Toronto’s Changing Lanes policy. Time flies! As we continue to design and build laneway suites across our beloved city, several uncertainties keep emerging amongst curious homeowners and laneway housing enthusiasts. Building a laneway suite is a big commitment for the average homeowner, and as such, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the facts before getting started. In order to help you make informed decisions to optimize your project from the outset, our team has assembled some answers to six of the most common inquiries that come across our inbox:
Myth 1: Basements Are Not Permitted
Basements in laneway suites are permitted by the Changing Lanes by-laws. However, the expense associated with excavation, shoring, foundations, and drainage in the tight confines of a lane can dramatically inflate a project budget. When considering the limited additional rental income (and that a laneway suite cannot be subdivided into multiple units), the cost-benefit is not very attractive. Cost aside, a basement may be a great option to provide additional storage, utility or expanded living space given the right circumstance.
Myth 2: 1.0m between buildings means you have access
Emergency access requirements are one of the biggest grey areas in determining your lot’s eligibility for a laneway suite. If the property is not within 45m of a flanking street via the laneway, you can provide emergency access through a 1.0m wide walkway extending from the front of your property to the rear yard. This access route currently must be within your property, meaning the 1.0m must be measured from the side of your main house to the property line – not to the neighbouring building. Our team is currently working on alternatives such as reciprocal right of ways to permit access to span onto your neighbours’ lot. We recommend confirming your clearance via a survey or site plan.
Myth 3: Sprinklers in Lieu of Access
We get this one a lot. “If my property does not satisfy emergency access requirements, can I provide sprinklers instead?” While this was a consideration during the by-law’s development, currently, sprinklers are not a viable alternative to providing emergency access. While sprinklers may delay the spread and intensity of a fire, they do not allow EMS, Fire services and their equipment to physically respond to any other kind of emergency in a reasonable amount of time. If your lot almost, but does not quite meet the access criteria, you may consider making an application for an Alternative Solution supplementary to your building permit application. Approval is at the discretion of Toronto Building Services and we highly recommend working with an experienced professional, like us when making such an application.
Myth 4: A Laneway Suite must be the only rental unit
A common assumption is that you are unable to construct a laneway suite if the main residence already contains multiple units. In fact, a laneway suite is permitted on any lot that satisfies the criteria, regardless of the number of units in the main house. With the new Development Charge Deferral Program now in place, these fees are waived so long as you commit to not severing the property. The number of units on the lot is irrelevant. Note, with more suites, comes more demand on services, so you will want to ensure adequate water and power is provided to the new laneway suite in addition to those in the main house.
Myth 5: Parking and Density Exemptions
For homeowners familiar with the zoning by-laws, many are immediately concerned that with a laneway suite, they will be over their lot’s maximum permitted density and would be unable to provide the required parking spaces. The Changing Lanes policy firstly exempts the laneway suite from your lot’s floor space index calculation, so long as the structure covers less than 30% of your lot area. Secondly, with the addition of a laneway suite, your lot is no longer required to provide vehicular parking. The only parking requirement in this case is to provide two bicycle parking spaces. These can be located inside the structure, within the laneway setback or at the rear yard.
Many homeowners immediately interpret the angular plane to mean their laneway suite must have an angled roof at the rear yard, but this is not always the case. The angular plane is fixed at 7.5m from the rear main wall of your house. For lots that have deep rear yards, a laneway suite can sit well behind this plane, but when space isn’t so readily available a stepped-back second floor at the rear yard can achieve the same goal, thus satisfying the angular plane, but without an angular roof.
In life’s big projects it pays to be prepared and well informed. We introduced our Free Property Reviews to help you with your projects, and this fall will be going one step further by hosting a series of free information sessions. If you are unsure of your property’s eligibility for a laneway suite, or find any of these requirements confusing, consider us a resource, and send us an email!