Illegal Secondary Suites and Right to Cancel

Cheap basement suite or couch surfing in an attic room, what does it matter where you live when housing in the GTA is so expensive. 

It can, if you’re an illegal suite owner hit with a building code violation or the unfortunate tenant who found an affordable nest.

Subsidized or low-rent housing projects can have years-long wait lists. They’re not for everyone. But before you’re tempted to buy a home with a mortgage helper suite or laneway home, make sure you can rent it out legally. 

Should you make a firm offer when you buy Ontario real estate? 


What Makes a Suite Legal in Ontario


Legal secondary suites:

  • Satisfy Ontario Building Code Requirements for Second Units.
  • Meet the Ontario Fire Code or Ontario Fire Code Retrofit Requirements.
  • Conform to municipal zoning bylaws.
  • Depending where you live, may be above ground, at basement level or in the backyard.
  • Based on local zoning, could be attached to your home, stand alone like a granny flat or be any other arrangement that meets provincial and municipal  requirements. 
  • For tenants’ safety, have specific window size and entry requirements.
  • May require at least one parking space.


What Real Estate Law (Ontario) Says 


Giving buyers a SPIS (seller property information sheet) is optional in Ontario. Unless you arrange a home inspection before you buy, what you see could literally be what you get.

Watch out for statements in an offer to purchase like “seller does not warrant retrofit status”. Your mortgage helper may not conform to the Ontario Fire Code or Ontario Fire Code Retrofit Requirements.

In the final analysis: illegal suite owners can be shut down, required to undertake repairs to meet code and bylaws or forced to evict tenants (see Tenants’ Right to Stay or Leave). 


How to Inspect a Secondary Suite


Always hire a building inspector to check for visible defects, regardless of how new or small a suite may be. 

Besides obvious safety features, like smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, look for evidence of shoddy repairs, smaller than liveable room sizes or outdated electrical outlets (not grounded or two-prongs only). Appliances or fixtures that don’t work or make noise can be a sign the suite has been poorly maintained.

Research the home’s age and whether it’s on a wildfire path or flood plain. They could be signs the unit has suffered damages that have been repaired or covered up.

Build a laneway suite for extra income. 


Proving Legal Status


Ask the seller’s agent for evidence the suite is legal:

  • local fire certificate
  • electrical safety authority (ESA) certificate or sticker
  • completed building permit
  • municipal compliance certificate
  • or municipal proof of registration.

Read more on building permits and home renovations.


Tenants’ Right to Stay or Leave


Tenants in illegal suites can complain to the Ontario Landlord & Tenant Board. They can force you to fix the unit or, if they are required to vacate, pay part of their moving costs and rental costs elsewhere (if they are more). 

How your real estate lawyer can help with buying a home


What Does a Real Estate Lawyer Do (Ontario)


Access lawyers when you need agreements of purchase and sale reviewed before you complete a home sale in Ontario. 

What to include in the agreement of purchase and sale

Our licensed, professional real estate lawyers (Ontario) negotiate with a seller’s representative to prepare amendments to offers to purchase that give you more time to check out your legal rights and obligations to current or future tenants. Whether you’re buying or selling, we can close the real estate transaction for you.

When you have questions to ask real estate lawyers, Axess Law has answers. 

See the 25 most common questions you ask us. 


Affordable Legal Services When You Need Them


Axess Law’s flat fee legal services are affordable and available when you are. You get the same great service you’d expect from traditional lawyer services that charge much more.

Your final statement is all-inclusive, with no hidden fees or taxes to surprise you. We explain third party fees and expenses when we give you our bill. If you find the same legal services elsewhere for less and have a written quote, tell us about it.

Save time with virtual real estate closings

We have virtual real estate lawyers anywhere you are in Ontario and in-person services in Greater Toronto Area or Ottawa. Buying a home is only $999.99 and up plus HST or $799.99 and up plus HST to sell an Ontario property. Add a spouse to title to the property for $649 and up plus HST.


Book Online or By Phone


Try our convenient, remote video conferencing services and e-sign legal documents with confidence your transactions are secure. All we need are two pieces of photo I.D., your agreement of purchase and sale and mortgage documents if you already have them.

Ottawa and Greater Toronto Area Axess Law locations near you have onsite parking and easy transit access. Our law offices in the GTA are open 7 days a week, with day or evening appointments for your convenience. 

Phone or go online today to book a time. Scheduling dates online takes just minutes or call our 647-479-0118 lawyer line (toll free to 877-522-9377) to tell us when you’re available.

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