What are the basic requirements for a legal basement apartment?

What is a basement apartment (or “secondary suite”)?

A basement apartment is a self-contained apartment consisting of a room or rooms in a single or semidetached house. A basement apartment may be in any part of the house, not necessarily in the basement. Some people call these apartments granny flats, nanny suites, accessory apartments and second suites. The City’s bylaw refers to them as "residential units." A self-contained apartment must have a separate means of entry (which may be through another unit), a kitchen (or cooking area) and bathroom facilities. A self-contained apartment may be as small as a single room that contains all of these features.  However, if you rent a room in a house or a flat with a shared entrance, kitchen and bathroom facilities, this bylaw does not apply to you.

Are basement apartments legal in Brampton?

About 3,000 homes in Brampton have legal basement apartments that homeowners built after the Government proclaimed Bill 120. For these units to be legal, the owners had to have built them before November 16, 1995 and the owners had to have registered them with the City of Brampton before January 31, 2006 or they had to have legal non-conforming status. 

Any basement apartments that owners have built since November 16, 1995 are illegal in the City of Brampton.

A single or semidetached registered home can only have one basement apartment. The City strictly prohibits homes that owners have subdivided into more than two units, unless the City has specifically zoned the property to permit multiple units. The City has zoned very few properties as triplexes. Basement apartments will continue to require a rezoning application until policies and zoning by-law provisions to permit them are in place.  

How safe are legally registered basement apartments in Brampton?

All legal registered basement apartments in Brampton had to comply with the Building Code and Fire Code when the City approved them. If the owner afterwards modified the home or added more units, the owner would have had to get a building permit and arrange for City staff to inspect the property before construction could begin.

Here are few basic requirements for a legal basement apartment:

(1)  The detached or semi detached house must be at least 5 years old.
(2) The front of the house cannot be significantly altered to change its appearance from that of a one unit building.
(3) Basement apartment must be smaller than the main dwelling unit.
(4) Minimum ceiling height is 6'5". Ceiling must be continuous. Suspended (T-bar type) ceilings and exposed joists are not acceptable.  Furnace 
room ceiling must be dry walled or plastered too.
(5) Doors must be solid wood or metal and minimum thickness is 1.75". Exterior door must be at least 32"x78". Interior doors must have a 1/2 
inch gap at the bottom to provide air movement within the basement apartment, unless return air ducts are installed in the room. The smallest dimension of the window is 18" and the opening must be at least 600 sq in.  Windows must be within 3' of ground, and if there is window well it must extend 3' from the house wall to allow room to crawl out.
(6) Bathrooms have to have either a window or fan.
(7) A kitchen equipped with a refrigerator, stove in good repair and working condition. Cupboards having a capacity of not less than four cubic feet multiplied by the total number of persons occupying the unit..
(8) New basement apartments require building permits before construction begins. In most areas an additional parking space is required for new basement apartments. If there is a parking spot for the upper unit, there must also be a parking spot for the basement apartment.
(9) The property owner is responsible to make sure that smoke alarms are installed and maintained.
Carbon Monoxide alarms are required under many Municipal By-laws. They are to be provided in each dwelling unit in a building containing a fuel fired appliance or an attached garage. Even if they are not required by legislation they make good sense with to-day's design methods providing for air-tight construction of dwelling units.

Smoke alarms must be installed in each dwelling unit on every floor including those containing a bedroom or sleeping area. The alarm must be audible in bedrooms when the bedroom doors are closed. The smoke alarm may be battery operated or connected to an electrical circuit with no disconnect switch between the over current device and the smoke alarm. Interconnected smoke alarms may be required if:
•  15min. Fire Resistance Rating is used between dwelling units
•   one dwelling unit must exit through another dwelling unit
If required, interconnected smoke alarms must be installed in every storey above and below grade in each dwelling unit, and in every shared means of escape where applicable. These alarms must be audible in bedrooms when the intervening doors are closed.

Some municipalities require to provide the furnace with a relay to shut down the furnace blower fan and gas valve if the smoke alarm is activated, 
and equip the heat ducts and cold air return in the basement apartment with fire dampers where they penetrate the wall or ceiling membrane. A cold air return is required in the basement apartment and if located within 24” of the basement floor fire damper is not required.
(10) An electrical inspection by Electrical Safety Authority (ESA - 1 877 ESA SAFE) )and all the deficiencies identified during the inspection must be addressed. Owners should retain the letter of compliance received from the Electrical Safety Authority for future reference purposes. This letter must be made available to the Chief Fire Official upon request.
(11) A continuous fire separation with a 30 min. Fire Resistance Rating is required between dwelling units and between dwelling units and other areas. This may be provided by existing membrane of lath and plaster or gypsum board. Openings in Fire Separation shall be protected with rated doors installed in hollow metal or solid wood frames and equipped with self closing devices lesser degrees of Fire Resistance Rating may be acceptable with the provision of interconnected Smoke Alarms or Sprinkler Protection.

The containment features are intended to provide protection for the occupants living in a dwelling unit from a fire occurring in another portion of the building, outside of their control.

  • To achieve a 45 min fire resistance rating for walls, one layer of 5/8" Type X drywall on each side of the wall is required.
  • To achieve a 45 min fire resistance rating for ceilings, one layer of 5/8" Type X drywall is required.
  • To achieve a 30 min fire resistance rating for walls, one layer of 1/2" regular drywall on each side of the wall is required.
  • To achieve a 30 min fire resistance rating for ceilings, one layer of 1/2" Type X drywall or two layers of 1/2" regular drywall is required or one layer of 5/8" regular drywall.

(12)  A single means of egress - provision for the escape of persons from each dwelling unit in the event of fire - may be acceptable if the following conditions are met:
•  It is properly separated with a 30 min. Fire Resistance Rating
• The flame spread rating of means of escape does not exceed 150 (wood paneling is unacceptable)
• The means of escape does not involve entering another dwelling unit or other occupancy and leads directly to the outside at ground level. Two means of escape are required if one means of escape is through another dwelling unit. An existing means of egress may be acceptable if the basement apartment is sprinklered.

(13) Ontario building code (O.B.C Part 9 Section 9 Clause 11.2) also requires minimum sound transmission class rating - STC 50 sound proofing between the dwelling units. The worst noise issues are usually noted under the main floor kitchen, bathroom, powder room, foyer and laundry room where the upper floor is not carpeted. The Ontario Building Code's Supplementary Guidelines recommends either 38mm concrete layer over the sub-floor  and two layers of the superior Type X gypsum board ceiling below it or 25 mm concrete light weight concrete on the sub-floor, absorptive insulation between the ceiling and the sub floor and double layer ceiling.

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