Laneway Suites Are Making An Old Thing New

What do you think of when someone says “Laneway suites”? Old apartments above small outdated and collapsing garages? A tight cornered driving space and low hanging cables? Well, that’s about to change!


Toronto laneways are about to change
History of Toronto Laneways

The Toronto laneway dates all the way back to the 1870’s. At the time laneways served mixed purposes for businesses like dairies and blacksmiths. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that people started using them as garages.

Toronto Passes New Laneway Suite By-Law

The city of Toronto recently passed a game changing by-law allowing homeowners with qualified properties to build a laneway suite. These legal and completely detached homes provide a unique opportunity for eligible homeowners to add more value to their property. Homeowners have started building laneway suites with intentions of renting out the units for several thousand dollars a month. It comes as no surprise that with this groundbreaking change, homeowners won’t be the only ones taking advantage. People who flip houses will also be looking to pay more for properties with approved laneway permits.

Is a laneway house the same as a laneway suite?

A Laneway house is another name for a laneway suite. It is a separate house on the same lot as a detached house, semi detached house or town house. Generally the suite is located in the rear yard abutting a Laneway. They are smaller in scale, completely detached from the house and may have outdoor access from both the side of the house and the lane.

Up until very recently your opportunities to renovate were “simple” for a lack of a better word. Your options were to buy a house, renovate it, and flip it; or stay in your own home and upgrade your basement, remodel your kitchen, or maybe even get rid of that 20 year old tub and give life to your dark old bathroom that you would never think of using outside of brushing your teeth and taking a shower.

Now, there is another option for some. Laneway housing is sure to be the next big boom in the housing market and renovation industry. The City of Toronto is permitting specific homeowners with Laneway properties the opportunity to replace their old and dated garage with a new and livable “second property” and it is not difficult to see why. There are approximately 47,000 houses that cover over 300km of Laneway in Toronto.

Cozy open concept kitchen renovation

What is the criteria needed to build a laneway suite?

Even though you may have a property that abutts a laneway, you may not qualify. One of those reasons are due to emergency access. There are certain emergency access requirements that limit the number of lots that may be suitable to construct a laneway suite. The opportunity for a laneway suite a longer laneway is far less likely than on a short laneway. On shorter laneways and where there are wider side yards and deeper lots, laneway housing is more likely to be possible.

The criteria for building a laneway is as follows:

  • the suite must be either within 45 metres of the road from the laneway; or
  • there must be a 1 metre access through the side yard of the main dwelling

The 1 metre measurement is from the primary dwelling residence to the property line. So even, if you have 1 metre between the primary residence and the neighbouring property that is not acceptable because if the neighbour at some point decides to tear down and build up to the property line, you will not longer have that 1 metre access. If you have a gas line or air conditioner restricting access, you will have to consider relocating those in order to be eligible to have/keep the Laneway suite.

What else do I need to know before building a Toronto laneway suite?

In addition to emergency service access, a 3.5 metre or greater area has to exist in the rear. If you have a property that is in the middle of row house units with no side lot clearance or in the middle of a block, which is more than 45 metres from the street you do not qualify at the current moment. It doesn’t require any parking for vehicles, but you must provide parking space for minimum 2 bicycles whether it is inside or within the setbacks.

If you decide not to abide by the minimum requirements, you may pay an unexpected price. The city has a policy in place stating that if the owner decides to construct a laneway suite and remove the parking spaces from the property, they lose the right to receive on street parking permits. This will however only happen if the city deems that the street parking in that area is already over crowded. Even so, there are almost always alternatives. In this situation you can incorporate a parking space elsewhere on the property.

What you can do if your property doesn’t meet the criteria

If your project doesn’t meet the proper criteria necessary, there is still hope! In some instances, suites will require variances as well to complete this task.

Variances can be based under the following circumstances:
  • meet tier 2 of the Toronto green standards;
  • meet accessible building standards;
  • acommodate a laneway suite within an existing Ancillary building;
  • or to provide the removal of a damaged tree

In the above examples, going to the committee of adjustments is necessary. The good news is that once you meet the zoning requirements, you can proceed with a building permit review to regulate compliance with the Ontario building code.This might seem like a lot of work (and it is) but, after those steps are taken, you are able to proceed forward the same as any other project that would require a building permit. This is just a small drop in the bucket to be one of the few that are allowed to build this innovative structure on your property and even more allows you the opportunity at a fantastic investment opportunity where most will marvel in peril.

professional architect designing home renovation

Work with a professional architect and structural engineer when applying for a laneway suite permit

Living through a laneway suite design build is easier than you think

One of the major downfalls of any home improvement renovation of significant size for homeowners is having to live through the project. Months of heavy foot traffic, constant banging and drilling will drive anyone crazy. Well, thanks to the addition of laneway suites, those lucky enough to qualify can renovate without having to live through months of renovations, or spend extra money on the “hotel life”.

What you might not be aware of by now, is that even the government is encouraging this. The government is offering a “Laneway program” affording homeowners up to $50,000 towards building their laneway suite as a forgivable loan. In order to receive this forgivable loan, you do have to agree to some fine print.  The expectation is to rent out the suite for at least 15 years while maintaining rent at fair market value.

This is a visibly growing trend in the Vancouver laneway housing market. In the last 10 years homeowners invested into building more than 2,400 laneway suites. That’s an average of 300 per year. Toronto is expecting to build 100-300 laneway homes in the coming year.

So, what do you think of when someone says – Laneway?