Step By Step Process For Legalizing A 2nd Suite

For my last post of the year (Whoa we made it!), I want to give you some practical steps to maximize that single family home into two income generating cash cows immediately in 2017.

I can hardly believe that in twelve short months, we were able to fully comply with the cities of Toronto, Mississauga, Oshawa, Hamilton, Burlington, and St.Catharines to obtain building permits to construct legal secondary suites.

Many of these cities came into the new legislation "kicking and screaming", but when it was said and done, we were able to push forth logic and reason to, in the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard, "MAKE IT SO".

Most of these units have already been completed, while some are still in the process of finishing. And many are cash flowing very well for the homeowners and investors.

At the beginning of the year, I was able to provide sufficient information to my clients for them to move forward. But with new insights on the various municipalities, I figure it's a good time to come up with a new step-by-step process for doing a legal conversion.

For the most part, these steps are in line with all municipalities. The difference between them lies with two things: Local by-laws and specific interpretation of the code (this was a big one).

1.    Check Zoning

Contact city planning department to ensure that the property you are converting is within a zone that allows secondary suites. Most residential zones do allow them now. A lot of this information is now on the city's own websites.

Example: City of St. Catharines does a great job identifying zoning with colour coded maps in their by-law document - free to download online for most cities

Example: City of St. Catharines does a great job identifying zoning with colour coded maps in their by-law document - free to download online for most cities

2.    Check Main Code Requirements

Examples: Ensure adequate ceiling heights (minimum 6'-5" finished or 6'-7" unfinished in most cities); separate entrance; adequate window sizes.

These examples are the big ones, that may make or break your ability to do a proper conversion, and therefore probably also make or break your decision to buy the property.

3.    Check By-Law Requirements

Examples: Parking requirements; floor space minimums or maximums; lot frontage requiring landscaping.

A lot of these make no sense. For instance some cities will have a maximum 2nd suite size of 650 SQ FT, while another city will have a minimum 700 SQ. FT for 2nd suites. You usually cannot get around these unless you go through a minor variance process, which is costly and time consuming. These are things I am hoping will change in 2017 to make things easier for the homeowners.

NOTE: You may hire a Consultant for items 1 to 3 above.

4.    Produce Permit Drawings (Licensed Designer can assist)

These include: Site plan, floor plans, elevations, sections, details, construction specifications (obtain survey if required, in order to obtain proper dimensions for site plan). HVAC drawings are also required in some cases.

Do them yourself or get someone who knows how to do them properly for you (hint: we do them! See Design)

5.    Submit Permit Application

Submit application to building department with permit drawings, and pay permit fee. NOTE: If a minor variance is required, go through Committee of Adjustments hearing before submitting permit application. This may be identified before design is done, at the permit submission, or during review process, in which case you will need minor variance before re-submitting application.

6.    Contact Licensed Electrical Contractor

Engage electrician to determine work required to bring up to standard, and have ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) inspect the work. Most cities require an ESA certificate to verify electrical safety and capacity of secondary suite.

All electrical work requires inspection from the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority)

All electrical work requires inspection from the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority)

7.    Revise Permit Application As Necessary

After 2-3 weeks of the original permit date, city should respond back. Make any revisions as quickly as possible, and send it back to the city. If all goes well, you should receive your permit within 1-2 weeks after re-submission.

8.    Schedule Initial Inspection

Before starting any work, contact the city for an initial inspection so that they can verify the existing conditions of the property to the drawings. In some cases they will advise you to go ahead with the work, and contact them after the first stage is complete.

9.    Perform All Necessary Work

Work with contractors and designer to ensure that all work is completed in accordance with the approved permit drawings. 

You can gain much greater control of the project and save a lot of money by managing the project yourself. This means getting your own carpenter, handyman, plumber, electrician, HVAC guy, drywaller, compared with paying 25-40% markup for a good general contractor. 

10.    Have Work Inspected

Depending on the city, there may be anywhere between 2 to 10 total inspections. Most cities have 3 inspections in total. You will need to contact the inspector assigned for the inspections that are specified in the permit documents.

11.    Get Final Documents

After passing final occupancy inspection, get some documentation indicating this is now a legal secondary suite. It might be an actual report, or simply something showing that you have passed all inspections for this permit. This will come in handy when you're selling the property!

12. Enjoy Your New Legal Secondary Suite!

Now you can show it off to all your friends and make them green with envy.

That's All Folks!

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. This is probably the most concise step-by-step I can come up with based on my interpretation of the building code and the various city rules. This will keep changing, as cities themselves are trying to figure things out. 

Every city clerk, examiner, planner, building official or inspector that I speak with tells me how big secondary suites are now, and they are trying to streamline the process as much as possible.

I'll keep my ears to the ground and be the first on to keep you in the loop with any new developments.

In the meantime, have an amazing, prosperous, healthy, and most importantly happy 2017! Thank you for your continued support and reading of the content!

Don't just wish for a great 2017!

Don't just wish for a great 2017!