Ontario Tiny House By-Law Questions

Housing-Questions

Due to the fact that I have a tiny house and I am so far the only tiny houser in the area who writes about the experience, I have a lot of people writing to me to ask if they can legally live in the tiny house that they dream of building.  The honest answer is that I have very little idea.

The problem is, the question is not a simple one.  The Canadian Building Code is used as a guideline by all municipalities in Ontario (as far as I know); however, each community can amend these guidelines to fit their own vision of a community.

On Undeveloped land:

Most communities will not allow an RV to be parked there and a tiny house will fit into the same category.  So far I have not learned of any areas that allow you to live on wheels on land, whether you own it or not.  You can get a permit to live in an RV short term while you are building a house and as far as I know this is the only time you can live in an RV, unless you are in a licensed RV park.

You can typically build a structure on undeveloped land but this is variable depending on your area.  You must check yourself with your building inspector.  In the case of the area that I live, I am allowed to have a building with a footprint of 108 square feet (many are 100 square feet, I know of one area that has 120 square feet and I am sure that there are other sizes outlined too).  The said structure can be no higher than 15 feet which is a gift because this allows me to have a half floor loft.   I cannot live there but I can visit it as much as I like.  This said without a permit to reside there, my house may well be at risk when new administration or inspectors come on the scene.

On Developed land (land with a house):

You are allowed to park a house on wheels on your own property in most areas but not all.  This is why you often see RV’s at storage facilities.  You cannot live in an RV beside someone’s house as far as I am aware.  The only exceptions are are some communities which allow you to have a garden house which is livable as long as it is movable.   There are some communities North of Toronto that welcome movable garden houses.  The hitch here is that you must put expensive infrastructure in place.  With the exception of the ones that exist already and these movable garden houses, most communities in Ontario strictly prohibit 2 families on one lot.

So far I have never heard of any communities which allow garden houses to be built in back yards but I suspect as our population climbs and cities become denser, this will change.

In short, I can’t really answer this question for you.  The answers are very specific to your area and your building inspector.  I suggest that anyone who is wants to know call their building inspector.  This is their job to know the answers, so don’t feel that you are wasting their time.

If anyone knows specific rules for their city and county please leave this information in the comments section.

I will amend this article as information becomes available or known to me.

Amendment #1: Unorganized Townships: 

Barbara Sheridan writes: “If you live in an unorganized township they follow canadian building code not a municipal code (since there is no organized municipality). The Canadian code does not set out building size requirements.”  What this means is that you can build a tiny house here, as long as it meets building code.  Be aware ladders to the loft do not meet code so you have to make room for stairs that are up to code if you want a second floor.

 

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Categories: Building code, Community, Neighbours, Ontario, Tiny house | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Ontario Tiny House By-Law Questions

  1. Jason Raynor

    I am curious about the line between the definitions of a RV vs. a Mobile Home. It seems that some municipalities define them separately where-as others do not have any definition for Mobile Homes. Under what conditions do Tiny Homes built on trailers meet these definitions? Is a trailer built home considered an RV as long as it is on wheels? If the wheels are removed and it is set on a foundation or other support structure is it considered a mobile home (or even a “Dwelling” because there is no definition for “Mobile Home” on that municipalities books)? If a trailer tiny home is on a foundation and connected to a septic tank what is it considered then?

    • I will take a stab at clarifying.
      I think RV or Recreational Vehicle covers several different kinds of things, such as motorhomes, snow machines, ATV’s and so on. The Motor home is simply one category of the RV.

      I think that a mobile home and motor home are not the same thing. A motor home is built to move around some have motors of their own and others are towed. Whereas, a mobile home is built to be moved to and set on a permanent or semi-permanent location. What I mean is that a mobile home is one of the houses that are brought in already built, they look similar to a trailer but set onto a foundation or a basement. I don’t believe that a mobile home is considered an RV.

      Tiny houses on wheels are considered an RV, yes, but I think that the ones that are set on a foundation are not be considered a mobile home because they are not mobile.

      Tiny houses that are brought in on a trailer and removed from the wheels and set on a foundation or a slab should be considered pre-fabricated. They don’t differ greatly from my house which was built on site.

  2. Anonymous

    leave the poor people alone

  3. Leida

    You can find the minimum allowable square footage outlined in the zoning bylaws of most communities.

    • Yes, you can, but I am not going to do that. It makes more sense for individuals do do it for the communities that they are interested in.

  4. awesome blueberry

    Hi. are these homes safe in Canadian weather please?

    • I think that they are as safe as any other house. Clearly, it depends on putting in a good quality heating system and being mindful if you are heating with propane or wood, just the same as you would in a full sized house.

  5. Great point Susan. I had started to add as much however then thought I would need to explain what an unorganized township is…and I have enough trouble with brevity already!
    Similarly, reserves are not subject to ordinary Code and land use provisions, so they too offer more opportunities to explore different forms of housing.

  6. Hi Laura, I have begun reading your posts recently with interest (and applause)!
    A quick added response for your readers. The National Building Code and its Ontario counterpart (OBC) largely dictate only the methods and materials by which a structure must be built.

    Allowable land uses – ie. size, location, type, occupancy of buildings – are instead dictated by land use policies, which are captured not by the Code but rather by Official Plans and their method of implementation, Zoning By-Laws.

    Ordinarily a property/lot must first have an approved primary building (ie. in residential zoning, a primary residence) before a secondary or accessory building is permitted. Since you have constructed what sound like is a theoretical accessory building, it must be that your municipality allows accesory buildings even before a primary building has been constructed on an otherwise undeveloped lot/property. Yay for that!

    On developed property (ie. that which already has an approved primary building), in Ontario at least, all muncipalities are now required to develop policies in their Official Plan to permit “garden suites” or “granny flats” as secondary uses on residentially zoned property, subject of course to many restrictions and caveats. In Guelph (where I live/operate) I think that such structures can be applied for on any single family or semi-detached residential lot but not on townhouse lots, condos or (unsurprisingly) on low, mid or high rise residential lots, though the structure must still meet ordinary requirements such as set back from lot line, special conditions for building size etc. Aside from applicable zoning, I believe that most such approvals are granted on a 3 year basis, renewable at each anniversary if all original approval conditions still remain true.

    So accessory buildings usually have small allowable footprints (100sq ft+/-) and low maximum heights (such as the 15′ in your instance, which as you note is actually pretty liberating for a tiny house!) though ordinarily (your instance appears a jurisdiction-specific exception) only permitted after a primary building has been approved and constructed. Accessory buildings almost never however are permitted as full time residential structures, though as you also note, they can’t restrict the number of occasions during whcih you stay there (instead they will tend to dissallow water/waste functions as a means of limiting residential occupancy)

    Garden/granny suites on the other hand have larger allowable footprints (usually a function of a % of the adjacent primary building or lot size) and are specifically intended/approved for fulltime residential occupancy however they are generally considered temporary (ie. application needs to be renewed every several years) – though for tiny house afficionados this shouldn’t prove an issue in of itself. As is usually the case for accessory buildings, I would expect that all garden suites must accompany a primary residence elsewhere somewhere on the lot.

    I describe the above from my knowledge as a builder asked to assist people to do what you are doing (and sadly too often having to advise that our bylaws tend to be more restrictive than in much of the US, northern Ontario or Vancouver for that matter). Of course, aside from what is permitted, there are plenty of “guerrilla buildings” and zoning by-laws tend to be enforced on a complaints basis, so if tucked away in a woodlot at the end of a long drive, who is to know… ;-)

    Thanks so much for demonstrating what IS possible (possibly aside from what bureaucracy might vies as allowable)!

  7. headstanddreamer

    Thanks for a great answer to a difficult question! It may not be the answer we may want (why, yes, of course you can build your tiny home wherever you like!) — but you offered a knowledgeable overview and a great starting point.

    • Susan Arscott

      HI Laura,

      I noticed that nobody has mentioned that some things are less restricted when you are in an unorganized township. You can build whatever size you like and don’t need a building permit.I am in the process of looking for land in unorganized townships here in Ontario.

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