Friday, March 9, 2018 / by Ruth Ballantyne
By Pam Douglas
Mar 27, 2012 - 7:52 AM
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City must lift ban on basement apartments
Forced to change. The Ontario government’s Bill 140, passed last May as the Strong Communities Through Affordable Housing Act, will make basement apartments legal in Brampton once again.
The Ontario government’s Bill 140, passed last May as the Strong Communities Through Affordable Housing Act, will make basement apartments legal in Brampton once again.
The Act took affect January 1, forcing all municipalities to allow basement apartments or “secondary units” in residential detached, semi-detached and townhouses. Municipalities must now come up with guidelines on how to regulate them.
The City of Brampton is looking at the issue, and will hold public meetings likely in the fall to get input from residents on how to regulate basement apartments. Until rules and regulations are established, it will be status quo in the city, which means basement apartments will still be illegal, according to city spokesperson Gordon Smith.
City council has registered its objection to the lack of consultation by the province before the Bill was passed, noting the Bill could have a negative impact on public safety and property standards.
Bill 140 amended the Planning Act to require all municipalities to implement official plan policies and zoning bylaw provisions that allow secondary units. The province did not give municipalities a deadline to make the changes.
Fire saftey will be one of the issues the city will stress, along with the provisions of adequate infrastructure and parking as it looks to comply with the Act.
The city has already repealed a new Brampton bylaw passed just last April which outlawed below-grade side entrances to homes for the sake of safety, drainage and access to rear yards. The new bylaw was being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, but the city repealed it on Feb. 22, stating side entrances are one way to make basement apartments safe.
“Since below-grade side entrances are often used to access secondary suites, it made sense for the city to repeal this by-law,” according to the city’s Feb. 22 decision. “The city will continue to ensure that safety is of the utmost importance and that there are no drainage or access problems.”
There are still zoning requirements and restrictions on below-grade side entrances.
The City of Brampton says it is looking for a “made in Brampton” way of regulating basement apartments now that they can no longer be banned.
The basement apartment issue was a political football almost 20 years ago when the NDP government under Bob Rae opened the doors in 1994 and allowed them “as of right”. One year later, the NDP had been defeated at the polls and the newly-elected Conservative government under Mike Harris passed Bill 20, giving municipalities back the right to ban basement apartments if they saw fit.
Brampton and other municipalities did, and, although all basement apartments existing in Brampton pre-1995 were grandfathered in, new ones were outlawed in the city.
Brampton has 3,000 legally registered basement apartments. How many more illegal basement apartments exist is the subject of debate.
City officials had maintained that many complaints from residents were actually centred on homes where multiple family members or multiple families were living, sharing the space and without an actual separate unit.
But many residents don’t see the difference. They have complained that single-family homes are not meant to house multiple families, and they overtax municipal services such as schools, garbage collection, and recreation centres, while paying taxes equal to a single family.
The city agrees, and that’s one reason they were banned, but the municipality now has no choice but to allow them.
Councillors expressed their disapproval in the motion to repeal the below-grade side entrance bylaw, stating the city is “deeply concerned that Bill 140... failed to consult with the municipal sector about unintended consequences and impacts related to community safety and property standards.”
Councillors also vowed to remain “committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure the legal accessory apartments are compliant with the city’s planning policies.”
Councillors also said they would voice their objections to the province.
The city defines a basement apartment as a self-contained apartment consisting of a room or rooms in a single or semi-detached home. It can be in any part of the house, not necessarily in the basement, and can go by the names granny flats, nanny suites, accessory apartments and second suites. They have to have a separate entrance, a kitchen or cooking area, and bathroom facilities, but if all of these are contained in one room, that is still considered a self-contained apartment. Any rented room in a house with a shared entrance, kitchen and bathroom is not considered a “secondary unit” or basement apartment.