What are building codes?
Building codes are mandated and enforced rules and regulations that govern how buildings can be made and changed. Building codes are separate from fire codes, though they do interact.
Provincially, fire codes are a subset of the Ontario building code. Building codes apply only to the day when the unit was built. The fire code is retroactive, meaning that even older units must be “retrofitted” to accommodate any new changes to the existing fire code.
In this article, we’ll show you what to look for in the common rooms of a prospective rental unit. On your next rental viewing, you should be able to tell if a potential landlord has cut any corners, endangering you and your guests should you move in and something goes wrong.
Did your landlord get a permit?
When your potential rental unit was in its construction or renovation phase(s), some contractors may have cut corners and/or sidestepped the permit process. This is absolutely never advised.
Skipping a permit means your landlord has skipped the inspection process. Having ongoing inspections during the build means contractors and DIYers stay on code so that the project can meet safety compliance.
Neglecting to get a permit for any major changes is a code violation in itself, and insurance companies can decide against insuring your unit if areas are not up to snuff. Feel free to ask any landlords about their renovation processes and if all inspections were passed. Remember, however, that not every landlord is going to be honest.
Main bathrooms require a bathtub, toilet and sink while showers are considered an extra. When you’re looking at your next potential unit, check for these fixtures but also for its ventilation system.
Having a natural (window) or mechanical (exhaust fan) is a requirement in the bathroom, since moisture and humidity can lead to structural damage, mildew and mold growth.
If there’s a working window inside, steam can escape when it's open. If not, there should be a bathroom fan that works. Absence of adequate ventilation means moisture from a hot shower has nowhere to go, which can damage drywall, insulation and structural joists over time.
Turn on the fan and see if it works. Sometimes, landlords cut corners by installing what looks like an exhaust fan, but really, it isn’t connected to anything. If you're looking at a condo rental, most condo corporations will ensure all renovations meet their building codes and standards.
Lastly, doors should open and close easily with minimal obstruction.
Ah, the kitchen; the heart of the home, and the place where you’ll be using heat to cook your amazing meals. How can you spot an illegal kitchen in violation of Ontario building code? Here are some details straight from the Toronto Municipal Code.
First, every room where you can prepare a meal must have “a sink that is installed in a counter having a backsplash and drain board made of material impervious to water”. So, if your rental doesn’t have a backsplash behind the sink, that isn’t just a decoration faux pas, it’s a code violation!
Like the bathroom, windows are not required, but if they’re absent, there has to be an exhaust fan in working condition to ventilate the space.
Required appliances will vary based on jurisdiction, but generally there needs to be a full fridge, 4-burner cook top, oven, and single sink at minimum.
Legal bedrooms have at least 9.8 m2 of floor area if the room does not include a closet or built-in cabinet feature, and 8.8 m2 of floor area if it does contain a closet or cabinet feature.
Natural ventilation must be provided in a bedroom, and this is important. A real window must exist for natural light and ventilation.
Windowless bedrooms are illegal.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Smart landlords won’t think twice about fixing and installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Today, there are 2-in-1 smoke alarm systems that detect both fire and co2.
It’s the law in Ontario for every floor of a residential building to have a working smoke alarm outside sleeping areas in each dwelling unit. Landlords are responsible for installing, testing and maintaining these alarms so they stay in working order and they must act on any reports of malfunction.
In terms of carbon monoxide alarms, landlords are also responsible for installing and maintaining them as well.
Failure to comply with these Ontario Fire Code standards can result in tickets of around $300 or fines between $50,000 and $100,000 if the offender is a corporation.
According to Toronto Star, basement apartments were legalized across Ontario in 2012 as the province aimed to increase housing supply in a tightening market. Municipalities were told to set their own rules.
As you can assume, there were thousands of basement apartments in operation long before 2012. Some of these legacy basement apartments have met regular inspection while others manage to fall through the cracks.
Basement units have to meet compliance with the fire code including fire containment, adequate means of escape, fire detection and electrical safety.
Drywall in the basement must have a 30-minute fire rating between the unit and the rest of the house. Further, there must be a separate exit or fire-separated shared exit.
In terms of windows in the basement, they have to be “acceptable”. Acceptable windows must meet certain size and location requirements that allow the tenant to crawl out in case of an emergency.
Minimum basement height is at least 6 feet 5 inches; bathrooms require a window or working exhaust fan; the entrance door has to be at least 32 inches by 78 inches; and if others in your building have a parking spot, you must also have a parking spot.
When is the apartment legal?
The apartment is official if it passes Fire Code and electrical safety inspections, it’s registered by the city and it follows all local bylaws.