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Is your basement apartment legal? Read to Learn

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Welcome to our latest blog post, where we delve into the often-confusing world of basement apartment legality. If you have a basement unit or plan to buy one, it's important to know the legal aspects. Legal and illegal basement apartments have important differences, including safety and legal consequences.

In this guide, we'll show you the important steps to check if your basement apartment is legal. We will learn how to check permits.

We will understand real estate listings. We will spot illegal units. We will know what to do if your apartment doesn't meet legal standards.

This post will help landlords and homebuyers make sure their basement apartment meets all legal requirements. Let's dive in and demystify the complexities of basement apartment legality.

Is your basement apartment legal?

The Key to Legality: Check Building Permits

Wondering if your basement apartment is above board? Start by checking building permit records with your local city building department. They can confirm if your property has additional dwelling units registered. No records usually mean your basement apartment might not be legal.

Real Estate Listings Aren't Proof of Legality

Just because a real estate listing mentions an "existing" basement unit doesn't guarantee its legality. We've seen many property owners face compliance issues despite listings claiming “grandfathered” apartments. Always verify with your city building department. They'll clarify the legal status based on past permits.

5 Red Flags of an Illegal Basement Apartment

Keep an eye out for these indicators:

  1. Ceiling height under 1950mm, including ductwork and beams.

  2. Absence of a separate entrance.

  3. Bedrooms or living spaces without windows.

  4. Lack of egress windows in the unit.

  5. No smoke alarms in the bedrooms.

For a more in-depth exploration, check out our detailed blog post focusing on '5 Signs of an Illegal Basement Apartment'.

What If Your Basement Apartment Is Illegal?

Don't overlook the legalities. If you discover your basement apartment is illegal, take steps to legalize it before renting it out.

If you don't pay attention to this, you may have to evict your tenant. You will also have to follow certain rules and pay large amounts of money. Additionally, there is a possibility of facing legal consequences.

Legalizing Your Basement Apartment: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Check with your city's zoning department to see if you can have a basement apartment according to the zoning bylaw. Post Bill 23, many cities have amended laws to permit such units.

  • Seek Professional Help: Consider consulting a professional building permit service for comprehensive guidance. This will also ensure compliance with the laws and regulations of your local municipality.

  • Apply for a Building Permit: Gather necessary documents like permit drawings and the application form.

Preparing Building Permit Drawings

Your building permit application submission should at least include a site plan and building plan. If adding a separate entrance, like a basement walkout, you’ll need structural details from a certified engineer. The timeframe for obtaining a building permit varies with your local building department. For example, the City of Toronto can issue a building permit after 2 weeks of submission deemed acceptable.

Retrofitting Your Apartment

Compare your basement unit with the approved permit drawings. Identify any discrepancies and retrofit accordingly. Remember, complete compliance with code requirements is rare for an initially illegal unit. Hiring an experienced contractor can help estimate costs and ensure proper retrofitting for your home renovation.

Schedule Mandatory Inspections

Don't skip inspections at each project phase. Even if a contractor suggests bypassing this, it's crucial for legal and safety reasons. Inspections typically required include framing, plumbing, HVAC, and final occupancy. For new electrical work, contact the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).


Legalizing a basement apartment can be a complex process, but it’s crucial for safety and legal compliance. By following these steps, you ensure your property meets legal standards and avoid potential legal and financial pitfalls.


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The content provided above is intended solely for informational and reference purposes. It is crucial to consult your local municipality's building permit department for accurate and specific information pertaining to your circumstances.

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