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Basement Apartments

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A detached house, semi-detached house or row house containing two existing dwelling units (each unit containing living, cooking, sleeping, and sanitary facilities) within the Town of Richmond Hill may be permitted if it was in existence on or before November 16, 1995 and meets the Ontario Fire Code requirements. Any basement apartment established after this date is considered illegal and is prohibited under the Town's zoning by-laws.

Legal Apartments
Proof is required to establish the date upon which the second dwelling unit came into existence (on or before November 16, 1995):
  • An affidavit, sworn before a notary public or commissioner of oath confirming the date of construction of the second unit and confirming that the unit has, either currently or in the past, been occupied as a dwelling unit. 
  • Any one of the following:
1. Past rent cheques
2. Assessment Roll information
3. Lease agreement
4. Installation date of a second hydro or gas meter
5. Utility bill for both units
6. An affidavit from past tenant(s), sworn before a notary public or commissioner of Oath confirming the occupancy date(s) – affidavit must include former tenant’s current address and phone number

Dangers of Basement Apartments
Town Fire Prevention and By-law staff inspect any basement apartment(s) for fire safety and by-law infringements to ensure public safety. Illegal basement apartments are a risk to the occupants and others in the structure as well as a concern to the community in general. They are dangerous as they may pose a fire risk and other safety concerns such as:
  • fire risks such as not enough building exits, fire separations between units, working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors
  • illegal and unsafe utility connections
  • illegal and unsafe building renovations
  • excess driveway and street parking
  • excess garbage
  • overload on existing utilities (electrical, plumbing, water and sewers)
  • possible depreciation of neighbouring property values 
Fire Code Compliance
The Fire Department and the By-law Division work closely to ensure compliance is met with all governing regulations and by-laws for basement apartments. The Fire Department wants to ensure the safety of all of our residents and enforce the laws governing basement apartments for all concerned.

When a suspected illegal apartment is reported, the Fire Department receives the complaint. A Fire Prevention Officer will then conduct an initial inspection to determine whether the unit is permitted (as per Fire Code regulations only) and to ensure that while the units are occupied that they are made safe. The fact that the unit is inspected by the Fire Department and may be approved as safe or that they meet the Fire Code does not necessarily mean that the unit is permitted under the legislation. If the units were not built and occupied on or before November 16, 1995, they are illegal and the Town’s By-law Section will issue an order to the property owner to have the unit vacated immediately. This will require the property owner to issue an eviction order to the tenants and ensure that the unit is removed from the building. Failure to comply with the order may result in the property owner being charged with the offence and having to appear in court.

Section 9.8 of the Ontario Fire Code prescribes the requirements for Retro-fit for basement apartments in the following areas:

1. Exits - egress
2. Separations between dwelling units (ceilings and walls), doors, etc.
3. Smoke alarms
4. Carbon Monoxide alarms (per By-law)
5. Hydro inspection 

The landlord (owner) is responsible for compliance with the Ontario Fire Code and is responsible to ensure the safety of their tenants. An individual may be fined $50,000 per offence or one year in jail or both, for violations of the Ontario Fire Code.

The landlord (property owner) is also responsible for compliance with the municipality’s zoning by-law to ensure that the property is being used/occupied as permitted by the zoning by-law. An individual who is found guilty of a violation of the municipality’s zoning by-law may be fined up to $25,000 per offence and a corporation found guilty of an offence may be fined up to $50,000 per offence.

Helpful Links

Apartment and Condominium Fire Safety

Home Escape Planning

Smoke Alarm Legislation

Carbon Monoxide Awareness

Fire Prevention and Life Safety

Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal

If you require further information or have any questions call the Fire Department at (905) 883-5444 or the By-law Division at (905) 771-8800.

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