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A 25-Year History of Second Suites in the Province of Ontario

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Primary Blog/A 25-Year History of Second Suites in the Province of Ontario

Amidst the housing supply shortage crisis in Canada, I decided to compile a 25-year history (that's a quarter of a century) of provincial policies that aim to address the increasing need for housing intensification in my home Province of Ontario.

Targeting affordability, population growth, housing supply shortages, vacant land available for development, and so on… Enter secondary suites.

…And so it began on a mild summer day in Ontario, on July 14th, 1994 the Residents’ Rights Act was passed into law by the Province of Ontario. The NDP were in office during that moment in history. The Act permitted Ontarians’ to construct legal second units in detached, semi-detached, row houses and accessory structures. Search “O. Reg. 384/94: Apartments in Houses” for more insight into guidelines for constructing a legal separate self-contained unit; Legal being the keyword.

It was short-lived though… On June 28th, 1995 the Conservative Party defeated the NDP in the provincial election and the Residents’ Rights Act was repealed shortly thereafter on May 22nd, 1996. One step forward and then one step back… Secondary suites constructed prior to the repeal and in accordance with the regulations may have been ‘grandfathered’ as long as they were in compliance with health, safety, property and maintenance standards of the time.

More than a decade later, on May 4th, 2011, Bill 140 known as the Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act was passed and came into effect on January 1st, 2012. As an amendment to the Planning Act it promoted affordable housing as a provincial interest, strengthening calls for accessory dwelling units to be permitted through the province.

These legislative changes facilitated the following actions:

  • One, Municipalities were to update their Official Plan with policies and zoning by-law provisions allowing one secondary suite per lot/property.
  • Two, it gave administrative authority to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to set guidelines with the minimum standards of secondary suites.
  • Three, it allowed only the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing the right to appeal policies and/or regulations permitting a second unit.

Years following in March of 2016, additional measures were released by the Province of Ontario via the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS). This document was aimed at reducing the complexity of construction, as well as the associated construction and development costs of secondary suites. 

Keeping that momentum going…

On December 8th, 2016, Bill 7 known as the Promoting Affordable Housing Act was passed and later enacted on April 12th, 2018. It again amended the Planning Act and continued building on policies promoting affordable housing by reinforcing the need for Municipalities to incorporate the construction and legalization of secondary suites into their respective Official Plan. The Bill also amended the Development Charges Act to eliminate development charges for second units in new homes. It was however, existing homes that initially benefited from this exemption.

…And there you have it, a glimpse into the past!

A short and sweet lesson on the origin of legal secondary suites in the Province of Ontario…

The Province of Ontario continues to make changes to provincial policies which will further shape future housing intensification efforts. The demand for affordable housing will undoubtedly continue to rise.

Additionally, if you have an existing property or are considering purchasing a property with a secondary suite that you plan on renting and (1) you believe it was constructed between 1994 and 1996, or (2) it is newer and listed as legal or legal non-conforming, I would strongly advise you do one or all of the following:

  • ​One, if purchasing, start by consulting your realtor.
  • ​Two, contact the municipality’s planning and building division for more details on the property
  • Three, hire an experienced third-party professional who can assist you.
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Michael Emanuele

(a.k.a. ""The Real Estate Rehabber")

​Bestselling Author, Real Estate Investor, and Entrepreneur

I want to empower new and seasoned real estate investors alike to navigate the challenges of property rehabbing with confidence.

These resources include essential tips and insights, that every real estate investor can use to excel in the competitive world of property rehabbing.

​Whether your goal is to flip houses, create long-term rentals, or execute the buy-rehab-rent-refinance-repeat strategy, "The Real Estate Rehabber" will educate viewers on how they can plan and manage property rehabs.