OREA Real Estate College

Accessory Apartment: Is it legal?

accessory apartment

A second unit, more commonly known as an accessory apartment, is a self-contained unit with kitchen and bathroom facilities within a house, rendering the house a two-unit residential property. While accessory apartments can be beneficial to homeowners, there are also many challenges.


According to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, second units benefit homeowners and the community by:

•  providing homeowners with additional income

•  providing more housing options for extended families, elderly parents, or a live-in caregiver

•  maximizing densities

•  creating jobs in the construction industry 


Accessory apartments must comply with applicable legislation, such as Ontario Building Code and Fire Code, and municipal bylaws (zoning and fire safety standards). The Building Code applies to construction of new buildings, and alterations, additions, and changes in use within existing buildings. Homeowners considering establishing a second unit may need a building permit, depending on whether alterations to the house are needed. Similarly, the Fire Code (specifically, Section 9.8) regulates fire safety in existing structures, including two-unit residential properties. Finally, each municipality will have specific zoning and fire safety standards to which second units must adhere. 

What Salespeople Should Know

When dealing with houses with accessory apartments, the one issue salespeople must determine is whether it is legal. Determining legality can be accomplished by asking the following questions:

1.  When was the unit constructed?

2.  When was the unit occupied?

3.  Was a building permit issued at the time of construction?

4.  Did the unit meet fire code provisions at the time of construction/occupancy?

5.  Did the unit meet zoning requirements at the time of construction/occupancy?

6.  Did the unit meet electrical requirements, in accordance with the Electrical Safety Code, at the time of construction/occupancy?

7.  Were all necessary inspections (i.e., electrical inspection and an inspection by the local fire department) completed to ensure compliance?

When representing buyers considering purchasing a home with an accessory apartment, salespeople should encourage them to include a condition in the agreement of purchase and sale to provide sufficient time to consult appropriate experts. 



Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (2015). Secondary units. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1BzSMoN.

Ontario Real Estate Association and Acronamic Learning Systems Inc. (2015). Land, Structures and Real Estate Trading. Don Mills, ON: MediaLinx Printing Group.




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