Ontario Tiny House By-Law 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.


About these ads
Categories: Building code, Community, Neighbours, Ontario, Tiny house | 29 Comments

Post navigation

29 thoughts on “Ontario Tiny House By-Law Questions

  1. Mike

    If anyone is interested in a large acreage of unorganized township land just north of North Bay, I have it for sale right now. Including a house, drilled water well, septic system and hydro. Hydro and septic system have been inspected and approved. Any additional buildings or community buildings could be off grid and placed anywhere within the two quarter sections. I wouldn’t mind keeping a spot for myself.

    • Hey Mike, You can list it on the land store. http://www.thelandstore.ca… if you are interested in selling a share of it so you can stay there send me the link once you have posted and a blurb to let me know what you want for a share… and how many shares you are selling…

    • Mike

      Patrick, you are correct, regardless of where you build you must follow the building code, that is the law. Not the Ontario Building Code but the National Building code. Now, the kicker is that there is no one to get a building permit from or for that matter to come and inspect the building at the different inspection times. I have completed a few building on my property and have only had to get ESA for electrical and Health Department for the septic system to come out. It really is a weird situation but one that I love, seeing that my taxes for 293 acres is only about 350$ per year, and that is with waterfront.

      Laura, your post about shares and what not is very interesting and one I will consider. I am currently working up in Nunavut and will be back home in June, which is when I plan on starting to put everything together for either an out right sale or, as you suggest, shares. I would really like to hear from others that would be interested to help me make up my mind as to which way to go.

    • Hello Mike, i’d be interested in more details too, as some of our members may prefer to go further north than where most of us are planning this season. Thanks for telling us your experience there.

  2. Patrick McAuley

    It is my understanding from working my way through the maze in Ontario. Unorganized townships can have their own requirements. Some have no restrictions, some have a few. That being said, in Ontario regardless of where you plan to build, if your going to live in the structure year round you have to follow the OBC, you still need a permit from the province and inspections, because they have to issue you the “Occupancy Permit” to allow you to actually live in the structure. OBC doesn’t specify a certain size of building, but it does specify minimum room size requirements. It also specifies the new energy efficiency requirements which you have to meet. This has to be verified by a third party, who can perform blower door tests for air leakage. There have also been higher standards for septic systems. However, there are routes for Composting toilets and gray water recovery. You also need approval from the local health or conservation board for your waste plan. The best thing for anyone in Ontario to do, is start by reading section 9 of the OBC. This section deals with building a dwelling to live in. My info is from the most recent OBC 2012, which has requirements that come into effect thru 2016. Section 9 is available online from many sources. The Ontario Gov website also explains building in unorganized townships. The info available is pretty brief.

    • So,Patrick… this still doesn’t apply to a tiny house on wheels, right? As it’s an RV, do you need an occupancy permit in an unorganized region?
      I’m assuming therefore that even the energy efficiency need not be tested in a TH, as you don’t need a building permit in the first place. Most are more efficient than a (larger) house anyway, especially if built with SIPS. Or , will its verified efficiency convince officials that they won’t find you frozen solid in the spring thaw.? :)
      Then , it still leaves the unclear issue in some regions, of accepting composting toilets over septic.
      However, in the unorganized region where we are planning to have our ecovillage, the person in charge of the regional bylaws said that we could have outhouses….which are far worse environmentally than well-done composting.
      Fetching water from a nearby source should be an individual decision, not an “legal” deterrent of frugal living.

      • Patrick McAuley

        Mike and Henry: My post doesn’t apply to RV’s or anything on wheels.

        Originally my hope was to find an unorganized township in which I could build an off grid 12 x 24 cabin, which I could live in year round. Unfortunately, if your larger than 9 x 12 (108 sq ft) you have to get a permit through the province and build to code. (which I would do anyway) Even if your in an unorganized township. So size of structure is the first issue as to whether a permit to build is required. If you have to get a permit, then the purpose of the building comes into play. As soon as your building a year round residence, you are building to section 9 OBC standards which are pretty much the same as the national code.

        It all comes down to requiring an “Occupancy Permit” to live in the structure year round, which comes from the province. I can’t imagine the province issuing an Occupancy Permit, without inspection. Mike, I think you just lucked out. Mind you, all our provincial government really wants is to get your contact info and get you on their tax roll to fund the mess they’ve created.

      • Hi Patrick, just to interject here a little bit myself… 108 is the rule in my township but this number varies in Ontario 96, 98, 100, 108, 110 and 120 are some of the other square foot (footprints) that are allowed. You have to check with your own township. If you are really lucky you might live in a 120…

      • Yes, that’s what i thought, Patrick. I was hinting that you could have more square footage in a tinyhouse on wheels than the 100,108, or 120 sq’ bunkies options.
        In our intentional community, we are open to all options as long as they are eco-compliant.
        Over time, as we see which way legislation goes, we would build more elaborately.

        Our current buy-in options start at 1ac./3k, 2ac./4k, and 3ac./5k. ….as private, lifelong, inheritable, sellable lease-sites on which you build your own private dwelling, in the greater context of a very large Commons ecommunity, in free association.

  3. The question most important question I have is this.
    Is it possible to build an eco village with multiple structures ?
    I would like to have a central kitchen and dining lodge with a few circles of individual homes of differing sizes.
    I would like to have the village grow but right now am thinking 15 to 20 homes around the lodge
    A barn, chicken coops and a few walipini greenhouses

    • What you are speaking about is an intentional community. As a matter of fact, I was just at a meeting at a property in Ontario where they were discussing just this kind of idea. I think that the property needs to have a special sort of status. Purchasing an already established resort, makes getting around most of the red tape, pretty inconsequential. All you need is some money and others who are interested in this sort of lifestyle. I would say that currently there are thousands of people who would love to get in on the ground floor of such things.
      The meeting that I was at, was called and 30 individuals who are seriously interested all showed up to discuss the HOW, WHEN, WHY, WHAT questions.
      May I ask you Harold, what area are you in and do you have others in your community who would have the skills and goals that match your own?

  4. If I want to build an EcoVillage in unorganized who would I need to contact?

    • I am not sure Harold. It is a great idea! Let me know what your plans are.
      I will email you back with your permission, (in about a week) when I am on grid again maybe we can discuss what you have and what I know.
      Kind regards,

  5. 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.

  6. Anonymous

    leave the poor people alone

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    • Depends on what type you build

  9. 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.

  10. 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)!

    • Verena

      Thank you so much for this fantastic answer! I am planning to build a tiny house which I would like to put on the double lot of my mother’s home to enable her to stay in the home she loves without having to have someone living with her, until she does want/need that. So it would be a granny flat of sorts. The township she lives in has proven to not be supportive at all of any such option and this helps me with some facts.

  11. 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.

      • Hi Susan, ..wondering if you have found land yet.? We are still actively seeking likeminded folks for our identified property, hoping to start this summer with infrastructure and home base, …between huntsville and north bay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,042 other followers

%d bloggers like this: