What are Laneway Suites? / by Sustainable

Please note that this post is meant as an overview of the by-law amendment pertaining to laneway suites. For details and comprehensive information, visit the City’s website or call Sustainable (416-619-0848).


In June of 2018, Toronto City Council passed a series of Official Plan and By-law amendments permitting laneway suites within certain parts of 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. Over the summer of 2019, the geographic area that the by-law covers was extended to cover the entire City of Toronto.

A Laneway Suite is defined as:

The City of Toronto defines a laneway suite 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”. Dissecting the jargon, this essentially means a totally separate living unit facing a laneway with its own kitchen and bathroom used by the laneway suite occupant.

Beyond a residence, other permitted uses in laneway suites include home occupations and short-term rentals. No more than one Laneway Suite is permitted on a lot, but having an existing Secondary Suite inside the Principal Residential Building, such as a basement suite, has no bearing on Laneway Suite inclusion. Laneway Suites are intended to be subsidiary to the Principal Residential Building on a lot. At this time, it is not possible under these guidelines to sever a property and create a separate residential unit in a Laneway Suite.

All in all, this provides an amazing opportunity for property owners to unlock hidden value in their own backyards and simultaneously enables the city to softly increase density in existing neighbourhoods with minimal intervention.

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. Recent amendments to the by-laws have enabled laneway suites to become available in every residential zone in Toronto.

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If your property is in Toronto, abuts a lane by 3.5m or more, and allows for a maximum travel distance of 45m for emergency services (either through side lot with a 1m clearance or by proximity to a public street), good news! Your property may be qualified for development of a Laneway Suite. For residents 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.

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There are certain aspects of the by-law that offers some additional flexibility in design. The floor area of Laneway Suites do not count against the total floor area allowed on the lot. Laneway Suites do not require a parking space for cars, although they do require a minimum of two bike parking spaces within the buildable footprint allowed by the setbacks (inside or outside the building). 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. 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 five or six 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 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.

info@sustainable.to

416-619-0848