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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


Updated: Feb 6, 2021

When you decide to build a custom house, building permits are required by law before any work can begin. If you have found a builder to work with, usually they would take care of this process for you. But depending on your arrangement with your builder or if you prefer to project manage the entire construction process yourself, you may need to obtain the permits yourself. For us, we are working with a reputable builder in Toronto and the entire permit process from start to finish will be handled by them. Nonetheless, as homeowners, it is still worthwhile for us to understand the steps involved.

Step 1: Application

Depending on the municipality you live in, the application form may vary slightly, but for this blog, we will only focus on the City of Toronto. The application form itself is fairly straightforward, but compiling the required schedules and drawings would require collaboration with the builder, architect, and other professionals to provide such things as architectural drawings, floor plans, elevations, HVAC drawings, and property surveys. It is important that these are complete and of high quality rather than hand-drawn sketches. Anything missing or incomplete may result in delays. Normally, the permit application can be processed fairly quickly. For a house, the timeframe for a permit is 10 days upon submission to the municipal building department. Please note that this is the standard timeframe published by the municipality, not considering constraints such as remote work and limited resources during the pandemic, which may significantly extend the regular timeframe.

Step 2: Municipality Review

The municipal building department reviews the application along with all documentation to ensure that the planned construction meets building codes, zoning bylaws, and other regulations.

If your project does not fully comply with local zoning bylaws, you can apply for relief, also known as a minor variance. In our case, the addition of a secondary dwelling unit (basement suite) was considered a minor variance, and additional approval from the Committee of Adjustment was needed. Our builder did this on our behalf and the process was fairly straightforward except for the delays due to Covid-19.

Other regulations may include, for example, a tree permit for the removal of protected species of trees. Additionally, a heritage permit may be required if the existing structure has been designated a heritage property. If you're ever curious to know if a house is considered a heritage property, the City of Toronto offers an online lookup tool found here. It's best to do your research upfront to determine the different permits you may need to prevent potential delays in your project.

After the municipality review, the building department must either approve the application and issue the permit or refuse the application and provide its reasons for the denial.

Step 3: Permit Approval

Once the application has been approved and you have received the permit, construction may start. The permit must be posted prominently on the construction site so that it's clearly visible to passersby.

In Toronto, it is also required to post a Residential Infill Notice. In established and densely populated cities such as Toronto, where there is not a lot of vacant land, usually, an old structure must be torn down before a new one can be built. These infill projects in residential areas are usually bothersome for neighboring residents. As much as we would like our new house to be built, we are aware of the nuisance to our new neighbors. The City of Toronto created a new bylaw in September 2018 that requires basic details of the project to be displayed on the Residential Infill Notice. This informs the public of the project description, builder contact information, drawings of the front and rear elevations, and information on any decisions made by the Committee of Adjustment. Although it's not too descriptive, it gives the public a general idea of what's being built and who to contact if there are any issues. The onus is on the builder or property owner to print the Residential Infill Notice and it looks like this:

Step 4: Inspections

Once construction is underway, inspections are required after major phases such as at the completion of the excavation, foundations, framing, drainage systems, and HVAC systems. Requests for inspections from the building department must be made at least 48 hours before any work proceeds beyond stages set out in the permit. Failure to comply can result in stop-work orders until remedies are made. An hourly fee of $85.79 (2020) is charged for inspections.

The City of Toronto has an online tool that allows you to follow the progress of the inspection status. By typing in an address or permit number, you can see whether the inspection passed or is still outstanding like the one shown below.

Inspections that have not been passed would also show up in this online tool. So if you are ever curious to know what happened to the house in your neighborhood that was once under construction but seemed to have been abandoned, it's likely that it did not pass inspection, violated the building code, or was deemed unsafe.

Once all the inspection stages have passed and the final inspection was conducted, the permit can be closed. Once the permit is closed, it disappears from the online tool.

Step 5: Closing

It is important that the inspector close all outstanding permits once the final inspection has been completed. As homeowners, it might be a good idea to contact the building department directly to confirm that all permits are closed. When permits remain "open" in the property records, this could potentially result in problems later when trying to sell or re-finance the property.

There you have it...

Obtaining building permits is not something you would want to skip. If a permit is required and you do not obtain one before starting construction, you can face serious and costly consequences. It is important to ensure the house is built to meet the Ontario Building Code to ensure a certain level of safety. The last thing you want is to have your custom house demolished because building permits were not obtained and inspections were skipped. However, there are some construction projects that don't require building permits. Tune in to one of our next blogs to find out when a building permit is not required.

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