This article is intended for discussion purposes only and not as a code interpretation. For specific articles and conformance, please consult the Ontario Fire Code, Retrofit Section 9.8 of the Ontario Building Code.
This article deals with some of the things you should be watching for, if you’re shopping for a home with a self-contained apartment. The regulatory information was current as of 1996, however may be subject to change at any time. Consult with your local Building Code Official or Fire Department for up-to-date regulations.
What’s the big deal?
Most existing two-unit houses (built before Nov. 16, 1995) will be “grandfathered” (continue to be allowed) under the new legislation, provided they meet applicable municipal planning standards. As well, two unit houses should have met Fire Code requirements by July 14, 1996. In general, new apartments must comply with the Building Code, and existing apartments must comply with the Fire Code.
Both new and existing apartments must comply with certain property and municipal zoning (planning) standards.
Is there a certificate of compliance?It would appear your best protection is to ensure the vendor supplies a certificate of compliance from the local municipal fire department for any property that might fall under the jurisdiction of the Fire Code, Section 9.8. If the vendor is unwilling or unable to supply a certificate of compliance, the dwelling unit could possibly be non-conforming, and therefore considered illegal.
Also, municipalities have the right to decide where they will allow homes to have additional dwelling units and can designate areas where they will not allow homes to have additional dwelling units. Units installed after November 16, 1995 without a permit are unprotected (even if they meet fire, safety & electrical standards) and the municipality could require removal of the unit.
What to look for:
* Walls/floors/ceilings covered with materials with a 30 minute fire rating (eg. drywall); or materials with a 15 minute fire rating and interconnected smoke alarms, throughout all dwellings in the house.
* New! Ontario, 1998: All homeowners must maintain smoke detectors on every elevation, even if the dwelling is not rented or sub-let. Check with your local, provincial or state authority to confirm requirements for smoke detectors in your area.
* Materials not rated for fire protection, but with a sprinkler system installed throughout all dwellings in the house.
* A private entrance, and the route does not involve entering another dwelling. A second means of exit, which can be another door or a window easily accessible and unobstructed.
What to ask:
* When was the apartment built?
* If the apartment was built after Nov.16, 1995, does the vendor have a permit?
* Does the vendor have a certificate of compliance from Ontario Hydro? From the local fire department?
* Are there interconnected fire alarms?
* What size is the electrical service? Is there enough “ampacity” (capacity) to support two separate living units?
* There are some private inspection firms who are attempting to capitalize on this opportunity by advertising themselves as basement apartment or fire code specialists. Don’t be fooled. Municipal Building & Fire Departments are the only organizations that have the authority to determine what constitutes code compliance.
What’s this going to cost?
* Ontario Hydro Inspection $72.00
* Fire Dept. Code Inspection $142.00 (typical/average)
* The estimated cost to upgrade or correct an existing basement apartment can be as high as $15,000.00
The regulatory information in this article was current as of 1996, however may be subject to change at any time. Consult with your local Building Code Official or Fire Department for up-to-date regulations.
Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office: www.ofm.gov.on.ca
Copyright Gil Strachan – All rights reserved.
Gil Strachan is a professional home inspector, representing Electrospec Home Inspection Services in east-central Ontario, Canada since 1994. Visit http://www.allaroundthehouse.com to learn more about home inspections.
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