Toronto city council just approved bylaw amendments permitting the construction of laneway suites! The 30-5 vote ends a long-standing push for laneway suites as a way to address the shortage in the rental market and ease homeownership costs.
If you haven’t heard of the concept of laneway suites, we’ll give you a quick rundown. The idea is to allow property owners to build secondary units on the laneway side of their property. Most people will likely build a laneway suite to generate rental income, but it can also serve as additional living space for family.
It’s expected that a good amount of the laneway suites will hit the rental market, which aids the weak supply, and the rental income generated for the owner helps them afford their monthly housing expenses.
In theory, someone could purchase a home with the potential of building a laneway suite and be confident that they’ll be able to rent it out to help with mortgage payments. It’s similar to how some homeowners build secondary basement units.
“Laneway suites are a part of complete communities. They can provide more opportunities for people to live in ground related housing, for residents to live close to where they work, shop, and play and, can help make the city’s urban lanes more green, liveable, and safe,” says the final report. “Laneway suites can contribute to increasing the supply of rental housing and provide additional housing options for households at different ages and life stages.”
Image from the final report
Of course, there are parameters in place to ensure safety, order, and privacy. First of all, homeowners must apply for permits to build a laneway suite. The entrance of the laneway suite must be within 45 meters of a public street in order for Toronto Fire Services to be able to access the unit.
The laneway suite can only be a single unit and stand no taller than two storeys (or 6 meters). The existing home can’t be attached to the laneway suite. In fact, the homes must be separated by at least 5 to 7.5 meters. At the rear of the property, the laneway suite must be setback by at least 1.5 meters from the property line and span no longer than 8 meters in width.
There are many other parameters regarding things like stairs and ramps, canopies and awnings, side lot line distances, square footage rules relative to the primary residence on the property, parking rules, and much more.
“These performance standards and criteria intend that laneway suites will provide a new form of ground-related, rental and extended family housing that will fit appropriately within the scale of established Neighbourhoods, and limit their impact on the existing physical character, while contributing to the growth of the City’s rental housing stock,” the report says.
So, it’s not exactly a straightforward process, but no building project or major renovation ever is! You likely won’t be building your laneway suite yourself, and it will take some time for local architects, designers, contractors, and builders to familiarize themselves with the rules. In the long run though, we feel like this is a smart step forward for Toronto and will ensure there is another layer of residential space to support both market and rental housing.