In June 2019, the Government of Ontario passed a Bill intended to address the shortage of affordable housing throughout the province. Known as the “More Homes, More Choice Act”, Bill 108 contained a number of proposals to increase the affordability and availability of housing in Ontario. The legislation consists of a five-point plan to address housing concerns, as outlined below:
- Speed – reduce the red tape required for new builds and renovations.
- Cost – make the costs of permits, approvals and charges transparent and predictable.
- Mix – make it simpler to incorporate a mix of house types, including detached homes, townhomes, secondary units and rental apartments.
- Rent – make it easier to build rental housing to ensure there are enough rental units to meet the demand.
- Innovation – encourage and embrace innovation with respect to housing design, materials and home ownership.
Changes to Ontario’s Planning Act
Bill 108 includes amendments to several pieces of provincial legislation, including the Planning Act (“the Act”). One key change the province adopted is to make it simpler to add secondary units to existing residential properties by amending s. 16 (3) of the Act. Under the newly amended clause, official municipal plans must authorize up to two separate, additional residential units in addition to the main dwelling. Previously, the Act stated that a homeowner could add a residential unit to the main dwelling, OR a separate residential unit in an ancillary building. Now, the Act specifically allows a homeowner to add both.
Practically speaking, this means that a homeowner could add, for example, a basement apartment in their main house, as well as a ‘garden apartment’ in a separate building in the rear of their property.
Supporters Say Rules Allowing Additional Units are Welcome
The proposed changes to allow up to three residential units on one property are welcomed by many and some have noted the change as a way to gently increase housing in a way that won’t drastically impact a neighbourhood the way a large-scale apartment building might. Supporters say that the changes also allow for an increase in housing in established neighbourhoods with existing infrastructure such as libraries, transportation, schools and community centres.
While the City of Toronto had previously legalized the concept of ‘laneway suites’, which were legal so long as they had separate rear access through a laneway, the new rules would allow garden suites on properties without laneway access. The changes mean that cities throughout Ontario may see an increase in what were once referred to as ‘carriage houses’ or ‘granny suites’. Many people with aging parents see this as a much-welcomed alternative to long-term care homes. Creating a separate garden suite on their property will allow their parents to ‘age in place’, in a city and neighbourhood with which they are already familiar, with their children nearby.
London City Council Endorses ‘Granny Flat’ Changes Under Planning Act
In December, the London City Council unanimously endorsed adapting the city’s Official Plan to reflect the changes set out in the Planning Act. Prior to the vote, the Council welcomed input from residents, allowing them to express their opinion about the proposed changes. According to city staff, the feedback was split down the middle. The St. George Grosvenor Neighbourhood Association, for example, was opposed the changes, saying that allowing second and third units would destabilize existing neighbourhoods. While the group said it did not oppose changes that would address the needs of the aging London population, the proposed changes “removed or weakened requirements that we considered important to maintaining a balance of residential uses in our neighbourhood.”
Despite the objections of a number of respondents, the Council voted unanimously to endorse the change to the Official Plan. Echoing the sentiments expressed by the Toronto’s Laneway Project, Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner had this to say: “This is a tool that’s fairly effective in helping to increase the amount of affordable housing. It’s a softer density, it’s not creating large apartment buildings in single-family residential neighbourhoods.”
Units would be restricted to properties that already have enough space to accommodate them. Homeowners will not be permitted to add a new driveway and access to the units should be through existing doorways or a side or backyard. Further, additional dwellings will be required to be less than 40 percent of the gross floor area of the main home. It is expected that each unit will be required to have a kitchen and bathroom to be deemed legal. Dwelling units would still need to comply with the regulations and definitions in the building code. It will take several years for these changes to meaningfully add to the affordable housing supply.
Despite the passage of the More Homes, More Choice Act in 2019, the adoption of these changes at the municipal level will be an ongoing process throughout Ontario. The City of Kitchener adopted changes late in 2019, and shortly after the City of London’s changes, the City of Guelph approved a series of new regulations as well.
The lawyers at Duncan Linton LLP are knowledgeable about these legislative changes and can provide helpful guidance to any client seeking to learn more about the new regulations under the Planning Act. They have decades of experience advising clients of all sizes, including trades, suppliers, general contractors, developers and municipalities. To speak with a lawyer, please contact us online, or call 519-886-3340 to make an appointment.