Illegal Secondary Suites and Right to Cancel

Bouncing between illegal secondary suites, or couch surfing in an attic room — what does it matter where you live when housing in the GTA is so expensive? 

It can, for home buyers who own illegal secondary suites. Homeowners hit with a building code violation, or unfortunate tenants who thought they found an affordable nest, are in for a shock.

Subsidized or low-rent housing projects can have years-long wait lists. They’re not for everyone. But before you’re tempted to buy Canada real estate with a mortgage helper suite or laneway home, make sure they’re not illegal secondary suites.

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

What Suites Should Be Legal

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: owners of illegal secondary suites 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 Do You Know If a Suite is Legal?

What are illegal secondary suites anyway? Any suite constructed without a building permit is considered illegal. It’s a pretty common problem. That’s why we advise you to always hire a building inspector to check for visible defects before you buy property with what may be illegal secondary suites.

Regardless of how new or small a suite may be, obvious signs of illegal secondary suites are: 

  • ceilings under 6’5″
  • dropped ceiling tiles
  • no or very small, non-casement windows
  • no closing door between suite and rest of home
  • no smoke or carbon dioxide detectors. 

Besides obvious safety features, 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.

How to Make an Illegal Suite Legal

The best way to make illegal secondary suites legal is to find out where the deficiencies are and correct them. Ask the seller’s agent for:

  • 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 real estate lawyer services help you buy 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.

Your Axess Law professional real estate lawyer (Ontario) negotiates 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.

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Access lawyers for less in Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, or anywhere in Ontario when you buy, sell, or transfer property. Axess Law’s flat fee real estate lawyers are affordable, and our rates are all inclusive (excluding taxes, disbursements, and third-party charges). Axess Law offers you only the legal services you absolutely need. Your final invoice includes no surprises or hidden charges. Your itemized statement of adjustments is explained when we deliver it, and we answer any questions you have about it.

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