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  • Lily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag

BUILDING PERMITS: WHEN YOU DON'T NEED ONE


As we continue to stay at home during this pandemic, we are constantly looking at ways to utilize every square inch of space we own. After we maximized our space inside, we look to see how we can better use our space outside. It's great that we managed to convert our current garage into a home gym, but you may wonder, where did all our 'stuff' go? In the shed, that's where.


Fortunately in Toronto, any structure less than 108 square feet does not require a building permit. This means you can build your own accessory structure such as a shed, treehouse, or greenhouse, right in your own backyard. But before you get too excited, just because you don't need a building permit doesn't mean there are no restrictions. Zoning bylaws such as setbacks from the property line and structure height can restrict where and what you can build.


Zoning Bylaws


In Toronto, the zoning bylaws vary depending on where your property is located. You can look up the zoning bylaws that apply to you by typing in an address using this online tool. We must admit, the bylaws are not easy to read. None of the words "shed", "treehouse" or "greenhouse" appear. Even the words "accessory structure", which are used on the City of Toronto's website are not found anywhere. The terms actually used in the bylaws are "ancillary buildings and structures". This is the umbrella term for any structure that is supplementary to the main house.


For us, the zoning bylaws applicable are those about the residential zone category. This means that if we were to build a shed, treehouse, or greenhouse in the backyard, the required minimum setback is 0.3 meters (about 1 foot) from the property line. The property line is usually where the fence is located, but not always, as mentioned in one of our earlier blogs. Other restrictions include a maximum height of 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) if the structure is less than 1.8 meters (about 6 feet) from the house. Otherwise, if you have a deeper lot, the maximum height allowed is 4 meters (about 13 feet). In both cases, the structure can only be one storey high. But it's always best to call the municipality to confirm before you build.


Shed


A shed is the most common structure found in most backyards. Finding a shed that doesn't exceed 108 square feet (to avoid a building permit) is pretty plentiful at most home improvement stores. However, most of them are made of plastic and that is not something we were looking for. We opted to have a custom shed built that matched the style of our current house.


A shed is not only ideal for storage but as most of us continue to work from home during the pandemic, there is a growing trend of the insulated shed home office. While this is not for us, we can see why this might be a good option for larger families looking to work from home with fewer distractions from kids. Stay tuned for one of our future blogs where we discuss how we're planning to set up our home offices inside our new house. Ideas for shed use are endless, with people building gyms, yoga retreats, art studios, saunas, etc.


Treehouse


As playgrounds were closed during the pandemic, parents had to find ways to entertain their kids. DIY projects became popular, especially parents trying their hands at building a treehouse. As long as the structure is relatively small and not too close to the neighbor's fence, usually, there are no issues. But if parents start getting creative as one Toronto man did by building a large ship-shaped treehouse, things might get tricky if the abutting neighbor files a complaint to the city. The neighbor says the massive treehouse blocks the sun and infringes on privacy. The city ordered the treehouse to be torn down. But as we learned in our last blog, if the structure doesn't fully comply with the zoning bylaws, you can apply for a minor variance to the Committee of Adjustment. This is what this Toronto man did, but unfortunately, his request was rejected. All hope was not lost though. Any decisions made by the Committee of Adjustment may be appealed within 20 days to the Ontario Municipal Board. This Toronto man appealed and eventually won, but it meant modifications to his treehouse and hefty legal fees.

The lesson here is: before building any structure that your kids may get emotionally attached to, it's best to verify the zoning bylaws to avoid potential legal battles down the road.

Greenhouse


As we try to be more eco-friendly and live more sustainably, growing our own vegetables is a great way to go. Of course, the cold Canadian climate doesn't foster the most ideal growing conditions. While an open vegetable garden might work in the summer, an enclosed structure might be necessary for other seasons. Like the other structures discussed earlier, as long as it's under 108 square feet, a building permit isn't required. If you're blessed with a green thumb and want to try growing off-season, you can build a DIY greenhouse. Or if you want something pre-built, places like Home Depot have a large selection to choose from that is within the municipal's size limit. However, if you are lacking space in your backyard and contemplating a green roof instead, this would require a building permit as this severely impacts the structural integrity of your home.


Other projects not requiring building permits...


There are many other projects that you can tackle without obtaining a building permit in Toronto. These include building a deck, installing a skylight, replacing insulation, and finishing a basement. A more comprehensive list is found on the City of Toronto's website.


But as mentioned before, it's better to err on the side of caution and check with your municipality before starting any project.



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