Laneway Suites in Toronto: An Overview / by Sustainable

If you follow the news about Toronto’s municipal design guidelines and by-laws as avidly as we do here at Sustainable, you may have heard about some recent changes relating to Laneway Suites. We’re here with a primer on the new regulations and what they mean to you.

Please note that this post is meant as an overview of the new bylaw amendments. For details and comprehensive information, visit the City’s website or call Sustainable.

What are Laneway Suites?

On June 28th, 2018, Toronto City Council passed a series of Official Plan and By-law amendments permitting laneway suites within certain zones in the City. These amendments create as-of-right guidelines that allow laneway suites to be built under certain circumstances without requiring variances through the Committee of Adjustment.

A Laneway Suite is defined as:

“a self-contained living accommodation for a person or persons living together as a separate single housekeeping unit, in which both food preparation and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the suite and is in an ancillary building abutting a lane.”

Permitted uses include home occupations and short-term rentals (as long as the laneway suite is exclusively and separately occupied as a principal residence). No more than one Laneway Suite is permitted on a lot, but having an existing Secondary Suite inside the Principal Residential Building has no bearing on Laneway Suite inclusion. Laneway Suites are intended to be subsidiary to the Principal Residential Building on a lot, meaning that at this time it is not possible under these guidelines to sever a property and create a separate residential unit in a Laneway Suite.

This provides an amazing opportunity for property owners to unlock hidden value in their own backyards and simultaneously enables the city to increase density in transit-accessible neighbourhoods with minimal intervention.

Before the passing of these amendments, the process of building a Laneway Suite was difficult, if not impossible. Now, thanks to the Changing Lanes initiative, Laneway Suites can be built as-of-right in many cases.

Where can Laneway Suites be built?

Before embarking on the design of a Laneway Suite, it is important to know if your lot meets the requirements set out by the new By-law amendments.  

The new guidelines apply inside the boundaries of the City of Toronto and East York Community Council zones (Roughly Keele St in the West to Victoria Park in the East, and from the Lake up to St Clair/Eglinton Ave to the North). Unfortunately, this means that if your property is in Etobicoke, Scarborough, or North York, these rules do not apply to you quite yet.

Photo from Toronto City Planning ‘Changing Lanes’ Presentation, May 2, 2018

Photo from Toronto City Planning ‘Changing Lanes’ Presentation, May 2, 2018

If your property is inside the noted boundary, abuts a lane by 3.5m or more, and allows for a maximum travel distance of 45m for emergency services (either through side lot clearance or proximity to a public street), good news! Your property may be qualified for development of a Laneway Suite. For those people in the middle rowhouse units (with no side lot clearance) in the middle of a block (more than 45m from a public street), you may be out of luck. For now.

What are the Design Requirements for Laneway Suites?

Just like principal residences, Laneway Suites are subject to a number of complex and sometimes overlapping zoning requirements. There are requirements for setbacks from property lines, separation from the principal residence, and soft landscaping for the property. There are also specific guidelines for building height based on the size and layout of your property, and restrictions on the shape (or even existence) of the second storey if the Laneway Suite is too close to the Principal Residential Building. Some leeway is given for encroachment into the building separation by decks and canopies, and some flexibility is built into the process by not counting the floor area of a Laneway Suite against the total allowed on a lot.


Laneway Suites do not require parking space for cars, although they do require a minimum of two bike parking spaces either inside or within a setback. In addition to this, any lot containing a Laneway Suite does not require parking spaces at all. So there’s no need to worry about getting into trouble if you give up a garage parking space to create a suite.

These requirements may seem confusing, but to the trained professional they sketch out the boundaries of permitted spaces in a way that is relatively clear for the first time in respect to Laneway Suites. Knowing the rules allows for site-specific interpretations and creative solutions to be applied. At Sustainable, we have experience making the most out of complex lot restrictions – we love a good challenge!

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What is the Approvals Process like for Laneway Suites?

These by-law amendments are good news for property owners in Toronto and East York. They lay out a set of as-of-right guidelines for Laneway Suites – meaning that if you follow these guidelines you can build a Laneway Suite without requiring any variances. Given that timelines for the Committee of Adjustment can run upwards of four to five months (even for simple minor variances), this is a major hurdle that no longer needs to be cleared.

That being said, not every project is going to align perfectly with as-of-right guidelines. Some Laneway suites will still require variances. The City’s Official Plan suggests that variances can be sought under the following circumstances:

·        to meet accessible building standards

·        to meet Tier 2 of the Toronto Green Standards

·        to accommodate a Laneway Suite within an existing ancillary building

·        to avoid the removal or damaging of a protected tree

In these cases, a visit to the Committee of Adjustment would be required, but the variances would pertain to the specific encroachments of the By-law, rather than the entirety of the Laneway Suite project.

Once all of the City’s zoning requirements are met, the project proceeds to a building permit review to ensure compliance with the Ontario Building Code. From there the project is free to proceed the same as any other residential building.

As with any building or renovation project, Laneway Suites are likely to experience bumps in the road, but the recent amendments to the City’s By-law have made the process drastically less complicated. Many lucky property owners in Toronto and East York now have the potential as-of-right to increase the value of their property and to create space for growing families, long-term tenants, or short-term visitors.

If you are interested in exploring the opportunities in your laneway, contact Sustainable for a for a consultation.