Basement Apartments & Bylaws – Reader Question

July 26th, 2011 · 40 Comments · Buying or Selling Your Property, Property Management

Creative Commons License photo credit: slgckgc

I got a question from a regular reader the other day, and if you read my previous post rant about why I hate basement apartments this exact issue was reason number 1. Many basement apartments are not legal.

Reader Question

Hi Rachelle,

I have been following your blog for a few years now, and even recommended you to many other landlords I know, it’s a great resource, so thanks!

I have a question for you on basement apartments in Oshawa.  When this situation came up, I thought you would be a good person to ask, as I believe you live or work in the Oshawa area, I think?

I have been renting out a basement apartment for about 10 years now in a previous house and now 2 years in my current house, without issue.  These are not legal duplexes, just a basement apartment with seperate entrance, it’s own kitchen, bath etc.  I just recently got a call from a city of Oshawa bylaw officer wanting to speak to me as there is a complaint about a basement apartment in my house.  I am guesing one of the neighbours complained.  I was surpised about this since I have rented this for 2 years now, and the previous owner did the same for about 3-5 years.  I have not spoken to the bylaw officer yet, as I am still researching the issue, and am unsure on my stance and what I should say.

I am wondering if you have any advice on what I should do in this situation?  Will they fine me?  Is there anyway I can continue to rent or are they going to force my tenants out?  Can I claim to be renting to friends and that it is not really a separate apartment? Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks very much,

Seriously Worried Landlord

The Answer

I do work in the Oshawa area but I have never had the pleasure of making a basement apartment legal yet in the Oshawa area. I do actually have one to make legal in Oshawa as we speak. In that case the height of the ceiling is too low in one area. We have to break out the floor in one section of the floor.

There is no easy answer…

Now That They Know You Exist…

Whenever you are dealing with government officials such as fire inspectors and bylaw enforcement officers you have found your new best friend. They have a lot of power to make your life miserable or not. So you want to be extra nice to them, find out what they want and do it as soon as possible so they will go away.

Believe it or not the officer themselves may well be your best source of information about what is required to get your basement legal if it’s even financially possible to do so. Just thank your lucky stars that basement apartments are legal in Oshawa. In Brampton and Mississauga unless your basement apartment is grandfathered in by the now defunct Ontario law your basement apartment is illegal.

Height Restrictions

The most expensive issue you can face is the height requirements for basement apartments. In that case you’ll have to crack up the existing floor and dig down, possibly underpin the foundation and then pour a new floor. It’s big money.

Fire Code Issues

You’ll need fire rated doors, 5/8″ drywall on the ceiling everywhere, and so much more…again it depends on the layout of your apartment and what the fire inspector wants.

Window Rules

There must be a window in every bedroom and windows large enough to get out of the apartment in case of fire. I’m not sure exactly how big exactly.

Unstated City Rules

Some cities like the city of Toronto are not going to give you a hard time as long as you’re fairly legal. They are not out to get you. In other cities that really don’t like basement apartments, they are really hard to get along with. The rules are much more strictly enforced. Oshawa is probably about 75% hard to get along with. I say this because they have made it difficult for students around the school and licensing all those apartments. I also read this article about the proposed changes to the zoning requirements for Oshawa basement apartments Plus the one I’m managing has been closed down.

The Funnel

Your problem now is that the powers that be know that you exist. From now on there’s only one direction and that’s to bend over comply with all their requirements. The fines for offenders can be up to $50,000. Usually they will not fine you, they’ll just make you remove the kitchen and disconnect the stove.

Other times they’ll just come by and inspect and nothing happens. That’s what happened when my idiot tenant called the city on me. I also told the genius that the city had declared the apartment illegal because of her report and she would have to move out. She moved. You have to love a good bluff.

The Problem

The major problem you are dealing with is that the rules are different in every city and the building and fire codes are very complicated and difficult to interpret. You’ll want to start your search for information here on the Oshawa web site. Then give the bylaw officer a call. I don’t really think that making up stories will work on them. I’d rather think they’d find it irritating, they just have a job to do.

It might be fine for all we know and you’re worried for nothing. Regardless you’ll want to tackle this issue as soon as possible.

 Any other landlords been through this complex, confusing and convoluted issue and have advice for this landlord?


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40 Comments so far ↓

  • Rom

    Mmmmmmm, by-law inspectors. Tasty.

    Some ‘experienced’ points, with both Osh by-law and Ont fire code.

    – I don’t know about basement apt licencing in Shwa personally, though they do have a two-unit bylaw that demands inspection, compliance with:
    (i) the City’s Zoning By-law;
    (ii) the City’s Property Standards By-law;
    (iii) the Building Code Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 23,
    (iv) the Building Code, O.Reg 403/97,
    (v) the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, S.O. 1997, c. 4, and
    (vi) the Fire Code, O.Reg. 388/97.

    – odd that by-law is coming first, I’d normally expect fire to ‘find time’ more promptly than by-law

    – by-law guy will observe a two-unit in action, determine no licence has been sought or received and the party begins from there

    – LL can expect approx $400 in fees & licence to go from compliant-but-unlicensed to compliant-and-fully-licensed (sched D of ‘Shwa General Fees)

    – fire guy is actually the dragon, usually

    – Odd that by-law guy is “asking” to come over – they have powers of entry that exceed those of the police and are usually equivalent to those of fire

    – LL needs to review (esp) the Property Standards by-law for Shwa to find her deficiencies

    – LL also needs to review ALL OTHER BYLAWS for their compliance – parking, fences, garbage, everything

    – LL needs to read every line of every possibly-relevant bylaw – really – if she wants to know her legal obligations and effect compliance

    – since LL is having visit by by-law and not fire the following aren’t officially on the agenda, but likely will be soon…

    – re the *Regulations* for the Fire Protection and Prevention Act (usually known as “The Fire Code”); s. 9.8 governs “two-unit” dwellings; LL needs to ensure compliance

    – this s. 9.8 is fairly readable:

    – LL will also need an electrical inspection (“General Inspection Certificate”) from ESA (per 9.8.6 (1)); she can call: 800-305-7383

    – needs to provide “acceptable documentation from a qualified contractor” showing that HVAC & chimneys are up to snuff (s.

    – dunno where Rachelle gets the 5/8 drywall from – last Inspection Report I read required “1/2 inch fire code gypsum board (s. (1))” for inter-occupancy separations, as well as furnace room walls & ceiling

    – LL needs to stop finding ways to shirk her legal obligations and plotting deception of the safety inspectors. Duh.

  • Rom

    Oh, to the Reader’s question(s):
    – no they won’t fine you … at least for a while
    – you’ll get inspected, told what to do, have 30 days to do it
    – you can ask for extensions
    – but you’ll eventually need to do what’s demanded
    – if you refuse then ultimately you’ll be in line for $25/$50K fines, up to a year in jail (esp for fire stuff)

    – AIUI they won’t force out the T – the LL will just have to comply with the Orders, or face fines and possible jail time; the T just keeps renting and is oblivious to it all

  • Property Purchase Analysis Software

    Interesting topic! Thanks for sharing this information! Great job Rachelle.

  • kthxbai2u

    I believe the poster saying the tenant does not have to move out is wrong…

    Unless your by-law is different… According to Georgetown’s by-laws (similar to Brampton/Toronto’s) they give you 30 days to move to a new apartment, and the land lord is responsible for ALL moving costs… And they have to fix the apartment (expensive) or pay the even more expensive fine 🙂

    I have a landlord who doesnt yet realize I have her by the balls…

    She lives upstairs, and several nights she had started playing music at 1am on weekdays… That and she has rules like… No shower between 7 & 8… No laundry except at night (bullshit, considering me and my brother cant stay up all night…) And recently no loud music before 11… We had an agreement from the beginning, that noise is not a problem – She blasts her music loud, and so do I….

    Also, she had a lease agreement (apparantley now over) that had millions of grammatical errors in it… And recently she drew up a notice, and signed it, stating that we requested early termination of the lease agreement. This was pure bullshit, neither myself or my brother requested it…. Further more, the only signature on it is hers… My brother did sign, but considering I did not, and on the lease BOTH of us signed, its not legally binding… We could argue it and move out in september, making it hard for her to rent/sell the house. I figure we got a ‘get out of hell early’ card.

    so after all that nonsense, and her breaking one of my plants in the garden, I am feeling nasty enough to report her illegal establishment.

    We are due to move out in one or two months, so considering this is the last rent payment for me, I am breaking every single one of her rules, and making her life a living hell….

    If after, I feel I still have not had enough revenge, I will report her to the bylaw officers, as well as the CRA.

    She could get royally screwed, and I dont know if she knows this yet… I’m not telling her, I will only hint it. I would rather her be blind-sided by it and put her in a tight spot financially, and well… residentially haha!

    • kthxbai2u

      I also forgot to mention, if she has a rule like no showering between 7 & 8, then that means her water tank is not large enough to support two units, which I believe is breaking a by-law. I know for a fact, if it were a legal apartment, she would have a proper sized water heater.

      I think I will report her either way, as soon as we find a new place to move to… Just because for the past year, I could hardly call this place ‘home’. Having to conform to such rules is ridiculous…

      • Rachelle

        I was right you are a fuckwad, clearly you have nothing to do you entitled waste of oxygen.

      • Sarah

        Thats mean. I understand she made things difficult for you but how about forgiveness? The world is filled with people making life a hell for others for no good reason. We dont have to become like them just to teach them a lesson. Perhaps your forgiveness will do miracles and change her for good. Let her know how she made you feel and suffer during your stay. Also let her know that even though you can teach her a lesson but you wont and hope she treats others the way she would like to be treated. Leave it at that and hope for the best.

      • Sylvain

        I called all the inspectors on my terrible slumlord
        Septic system is costing him 20k
        Fire inspector wants chimney redone

        • Rachelle

          You must be so proud.

          • Fucwad

            Probably does feel proud now that the apartment is finally legally safe for someone to live in, you fuckwad. You really deserve a big punch in the face with a mouth like that.

          • Rachelle

            Always nice to talk to my fans

        • Shelia

          Sylvain: Good for you, about time tenants got Landlords to do their jobs, instead of messing with the dog and selling the pups, other words, doing nothing useful :-). Its time tenants that pay their rent and keep their rental unit up to standards, clean and such. The Landlord would appreciate and respect and not want to loss good tenants. And word of mouth can damage a Landlords rep, and not good for future renters. Cuz if and when someone asks me, hey do u know so and so property and how the Landlord, Property Manage is and maintains their property??. I will say, oh my yes great not some slum lord afraid to spent money and keep up not patch work until things fall apart again. Or if their idiots, I will say, oh don’t even bother to step foot on that property, they haven’t a clue how to maintain their rental units, wont repair anything. But will certainly want their rent. So being honest and up front is the best policy, and I wouldn’t want anyone having to deal with some wanta be LANDLORD, when they don’t give a rat a** about their tenants just whether or not that rent is paid. So BRAVO for you contacting the proper people to light a fire under the Landlords butt. More people should do this, maybe then slum lords would get with the program, and DO THEIR JOB!!!! Awesome keep up the great work 🙂

    • Rachelle

      You sound like a real fuckwad. I wish you a big fat punch in the face. The end.

    • Racheal

      How immature can you be? Let’s ruin her life because she pissed u off. grow up

      • Safa

        Dealing with one right now. People like them should but under scrutiny, before given place to rent. There should be a way to filter these senseless, selfish asses.

    • Bitch

      Buy your own house if you don’t want rules.
      You envious, jealous whore.

      I hate these shitty tenants, like yourself, who think the bought a house with 1k per month.

      Move out and go fuck yourself.

      • SONU


  • Kthxbai2u

    I am the fuckwad? I completley disagree… I am the one getting screwed by a landlord… Or am I misunderstanding you and you know the landlord personally? I think either way you are the fuckwad judging by the lack of intelligence in your reply. I hope you fail, either your in on the scam or your still a fuckwad (in your own words) and stupid for feeling bad for the landlord when the tenant is clearly the one distressed and in proper legal positioning…

  • Trip

    woah rachelle why all the misguided hate. you must be new to the internet. lol. , i feel your pain man. you should do whatever you want to make your landlord unhappy. people are entitled to peaceful enjoyment of their shit. my stupid packie landlord never turns down his fucking tv volume. i think he has speakers inside the party wall or something its so stupid loud sand nigger speak. so i put a speaker against the wall and play Metallica and lamb of god as loud as i can every time that fat shit disturbs me.
    Of course the list goes on from being locked out of the garage where my washing machine is to the curry smell that gets so bad i cant have guests over. its so bad i cant believe these foul ghouls put that shit inside their bodies everyday. in return for that i have taken up smoking weed inside instead of leaving for a nice walk. i say fuck him. shit landlords that trick you into a illegal suite deserve to lose their house.

    • Rachelle

      You sound like a charmer, I can’t imagine why you’re living in such horrible circumstances, I think your landlord would agree that you should move because your living conditions are so stressful.

      • Racheal

        I completely agree with both of your comments. These are stupid little girls who need to grow up. I understand that these landlords are being jerks but the mature thing to do is move. I can’t imagine not caring about ruining someone’s life. And towards trips comment about your misguided hate? Lmao she is a racisit little bitch

  • Amanda

    Hi I need serious help!! My bf owned a home which he finished the basement in Oshawa Ontario. He made it an apartment with everything in it which he didn’t specify on the drawings that it would be an apartment ( he was trying to save money I guess yes it was stupid). Then he ended up going through an injury and had to go off work and go on Odsp. He sold his house to his brother. Now his brother lives in the bsmt and he lives upstairs. He was charged for deviating from the drawings and allowing his brother to live in the basement. His brother was also charged 50k in fines but we managed to get all of them dropped because he was not the owner of the home at the time of all these charges. So the only Charges that stuck was deviating from the drawing and allowing his brother to live in the bsmt. About 12k worth in fines. The situation is still the same however we removed the upstairs stove to make it legal. It passed everything fire included… This is why most charged didn’t stick as well. So now where we stand is the building inspectors are still harrassing my bf…. Which we don’t get because he does not own the home. His brother does and he lives in the bsmt but how can they say anything about that knowing he owns it now? Also they are pushing my bf to get new drawings in that specify what it truly is not what the wrong drawings showed. So basically that it’s a full apt and the upstairs kitchen is not an actual kitchen because there is no stove. We haven’t submitted the drawings because he is disabled and he’s going through a lot. Also we don’t feel it’s our responsibility as the house isn’t his anymore. They are threatening us and we don’t know what to do and we can’t afford a lawyer. We were under the understanding that they can’t charge his brother because they already tried charging him with everything and it all got dropped. The only ones that stuck were my bf 2 charges and the rest of his got dropped too. What are our options??? We have until the 17 of this mth. Is there someone that can help us?? I would greatly appreciate it as we don’t have much money and they know this. They call my bf names and are mean to him. He called asking questions and they won’t answer them and hang up on him! The one inspector said mark my words one day this basement will be torn up ! Please help! Email me too if u can at

  • Ann

    Hi can someone please answer this question for me… Does a landlord renting out a house have to properly insulate the house before turning the house into two separate apartments? My mom and I live on the main floor of a two story house and two girls rent the downstairs of the house and there is no insulation whatsoever in this house and they play loud rap music all day and slam doors and have a loud drug dealing boyfriend over who has turned a nice home into the hood and its driving us crazy listening to his voice! He cannot speak without saying yo twenty five times in a sentence! The landlord does nothing about it.

  • helen

    The doors between my unit in a basement apartment, and the other tenant are thin plywood doors with just a doorknob lock and we share laundry.whats the law regarding doors and security, also the other tenant can access my unit, through the closet which is behind the washer/dryer as there is no wall between my bedroom and the laundry…..any help for me in what i can do ?????

  • Lee

    Hello, I’m living in a basement apartment in a plaza under a store front turned into an apartment. It’s a one bedroom apartment with only one window high above the door at the top of the stairs. And I read on another website that their had to be an exhaust in the bathroom which I don’t have. I live in toronto. I believe it’s possible to install a window in the bedroom if he were to tear down a wall to a storage room how ever he won’t listen to me. The fact there is no windows is depressing me, it’s a shame because he is such a nice guy and I do love the price and the space of this apartment as I’m a college student. I was just curious if there was a way to have my apartment inspected without him knowing it was me who called.

  • basementrenter

    I have a question! I’m living in a basement apartment that I know is not legal – though the landlord claims that it is.

    1. First he said the apartment came with one parking spot – a grassy section to the right of the driveway.

    2. There is a kitchen in the basement and when I went to use the stove the other day, the oven wasn’t working. I asked him to take a look and its been several days already.

    3. Last week the toilet leaked (wax seal), but it leaked under the wall into my apartment. Because he was taking so long to fix it…I fixed it myself and informed him. Then the next day, he came with (his so-called) contractor and replaced it again (and now its leaking again). When I replaced the wax seal, I noticed that the cement job under the toilet was done proper. and he claimed that they fixed it when they replaced the wax ring. but after it started leaking again, I got suspicious, so I checked and found that their wax ring wasn’t installed properly and they never leveled the floor.

    3. In the spring, the whole house was invaded with carpenter ants and we requested the landlord have a specialist come in and spray. He claimed that the garbage bags were drawing the carpenter ants in and suggested we place the garbage bags outside in the shed (which has squirrels, raccoons and skunks) living inside. I figured that the ants were coming inside because of rotting wood from the sewage leak – which is still leaking.

    Then today, he rented the main floor of the “3 apartment house” and previously he had suggested that I moved my stuff from the side of the house to one of the sheds (which one, the garbage shed or ) but anyways today I decided to move my stuff into the shed and he said that those sheds are for main floor and second floor only. Now he wants me to place all my things in the furnace room, which is already an illegal fire hazard.

    I don’t want to go to the city and complain, just want him to fix the appliance, repair the toilet properly, unseal the basement windows so I have a decent fire escape, clean out the furnace room and give me a place for storage. Is that too much to ask – in exchange for “not claiming my rent” and allowing him to share my kitchen?

    Let me know what I should do. I don’t want to screw him over!

  • Bobby

    I Have a similar issue with my landlord in brampton who has an illegal basement, and I have tried over and over again to reason with the man, but he is not willing to come to terms, his attitude is get lost as the line is really long for renters.

    Whom do I contact if he wrongfully tries to evict me?


  • anna

    when I rented basement apt in pickering my LL said it wld be quiet 3 adults – his parents n brother lived upstairs now he has moved bck in and I awoken at 7 am everyday to his kids stamping running and jumping over my bedroom I asked him to keep it down and he refused what r my rights as a tenant what shld I do in the meantime i have started looking for a new place. what about peaceful enjoyment can a LL collect rent n still subject tenant to loud excessive noise?

  • ammu

    i am living in a basement and we and our landlord use same washing machine and once we saw the landlord peaking into rooms, and i am wondering what else they do during the times when we are not in the house is this legal

    • Rachelle

      Well it depends, your landlord has the right to be in your unit and do laundry, but peeking is an invasion of your privacy. I know you might wonder but that doesn’t mean your landlord is doing anything wrong. I’m not sure about the legality.

    • Shelia

      ammu: I hear your problem, had the same trouble few years ago when I rented a basement apt in Tor. Noticed my mail moved on my table, doors that I shut were left ajar, things moved around in my fridge and things of this nature.
      I told my landlord to stay the hell out of the apt while I wasn’t home, we were to make times and dates so we could do laundry and avoid this problem. I actual had her sign a contact and had two witnesses, she agreed that this was a great idea. She agreed, only I didn’t trust her, so I sat up a camera and guess what I discovered lol!! So I went to her once again, and told her, this is a legal and binding contact and agreement, and if she broke it again. I would take her to the Landlord and Tenant Act and have them straighten this out. Its an a privacy matter and she broke it. She thought she was so much smarter then I. So I let it go, kept taping her, and even her stupid self talks as she went through my things. I found another apt paid my last months rent. And then told her I was suing her for my moving costs and reasons why. Well she got a wee bit frightened, cuz she knew I caught her red handed and in her lies again, and proof lol!! We didn’t get to go to court, cuz she paid my moving costs, and gave me two months rent lol!! I don’t mess around with idiots that think just becuz they are Landlords they think tenants have no rights. Well not this tenant, she was completely and utterly wrong and I caught her lol!!! All worked out for me, just a suggestion use a camera if u ever run into this problem in the future, since its been a couple years I noticed u wrote this, and catch the idiot that thinks he is in his rights to invade your privacy, all becuz you are renting. NOT!! Nope, BITE ME hahahahah!

  • concerned landlord


    Im a landlord in pickering. I have a home that’s only 2 years old. I just learned that I was supposed to have got a building permit to finish my basement apartment. I now want to legalize my basement but I have a tenant who has signed a 1 year lease and has stayed with us for 1 month so far.

    How can I kick her out and begin making this place legal? I’d love to call her back, but I’m wondering what her rights are in this case? The city does not yet know that I have an illegal department so I am doing all of this to get it legal now so i can avoid a possible fine in the future.

    Please help?


  • Angel

    Its interesting Topic
    but you feel it more interstinng when you face same situation.
    I bought house recently hardly 4 month and when it was open house my so called Neighbor visited it and assumed house has second unit without having stove ……. because Recently my cousin visited me and was parking his car outside and this lady complain about second unit thinking I have tenant ………such a pain and mental torture ….daily city people someone or other knock door and leave their card and we got letter from by law giving notice of contravention and inspection before time………now being good person I have allowed them to get it inspected…….in inspection all officers were good….Municipal officer was happy not finding any second unit but this guy buidling inspector sent another notice to remove 3 pc washroom and slabs there…..aahhhhhh … really want to curse this lady…..any suggestion?