Garden Suites in Toronto

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Finding affordable accommodation in the GTA is a stressful and arduous endeavor for many people. With the high cost of living within this region, more and more families are looking for more affordable housing options. This is precisely why there’s so much excitement about garden suites. As the popularity of these types of alternative living accommodations has grown, more municipalities have become more flexible in accommodating this form of modern living.

Toronto garden suites have been on the tip of many people’s tongues in Ontario as an appealing alternative to traditional accommodation. For many renters, garden suites are preferable to apartments because the standalone structure gives them the feeling of being in a home as opposed to an apartment. It also gives renters some access to the yard which apartments do not. Garden suites in Toronto are becoming more recognized for their economic, social, and environmental benefits. In this blog, we will explore what garden suites are and why they are becoming the next big craze in Ontario.

What is a Garden Suite?


Garden suites are intended to serve as rental housing units and are homes built in the yards of existing residential properties. A simple way of thinking about garden suites are detached dwellings located in the yard of the main home.

Depending on which part of Canada you live in, you may have heard garden homes referred to by a different name. They’re also called granny flats, carriage homes, laneway homes, or secondary suites. Essentially, garden suites are a way to maximize yard space by building more than one property on it.

It’s a win-win situation because it allows homeowners to build on land that they already own, and thereby add to their real estate portfolio. It is also beneficial because homeowners can monetize their land by renting their garden suite to tenants. For a home to be classified as a garden suite, it has to be a self-contained dwelling unit in an accessory building that is detached from the principal home.

Garden suites can be single or two-story homes and allow families to live separately on the same property, promoting a more communal setup. There are rules you must abide by if you decide to build secondary dwellings in your backyard.

Ways to Qualify for a Garden Suite

Since garden suites do not have to be adjacent to a public laneway, there are greater opportunities for more homeowners to build garden suites on their properties. The City of Toronto has a list of requirements for garden suites so homeowners can determine whether their property qualifies for a laneway home. For a building permit to be issued for the construction of a garden suite, the city must be satisfied that the garden suite plans comply with applicable Ontario Building Code regulations, Zoning Bylaws, and other applicable laws.

Appropriate access for emergency services must be present and the room sizes in the garden suite must meet applicable law regulations. This includes the minimum floor height and ceiling heights. To qualify for a garden suite, the building will need to be a self-contained unit that has its own kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and living area. How you plan to use your garden suite must be in compliance with the law. Garden suites may be used for short-term or long-term rentals in accordance with rental bylaws.

The Process of Building a Garden Suite

There are a series of steps that you need to go through in order to build a garden suite. This may take some time, so it’s important to understand what the process is so you know what to expect.

1. Does my lot/property qualify for a garden suite?

There was a time when garden suites were only allowed to be built at certain locations like corner lots or beside commercial zones. But since the zoning bylaws have been updated, garden suites can be built on most lots in low-density residential areas. Determining whether your lot is eligible will require you knowing your zone. Once you know this, you can find out whether garden suites are permitted in your area based on your yard size. As mentioned before, garden suites are only permitted to be located in the backyard of a property. A garden suite should be at least 5 m away from the main residential building, and you can only build a garden suite if your home is a detached home with adequate backyard space.

The footprint (building area) can take up to 40% of the backyard area or 60 m² – whichever is smaller. The garden suite cannot take up more than 20% of the entire lot. There also needs to be a minimum of either 0.6 m or 10% of the lot frontage allocated for the side yard setback, with a maximum of 3 m. If your lot has a frontage larger than 6 m, your backyard, including the area where the gardens suite will be built, and at least 50% of the space must be covered with soft landscaping.

2. Obtain proposal from a builder

The city needs to make sure that you follow all the regulations established for a secondary dwelling, so you’ll need to have the proposed drawings for your garden suite drawn up before you can get a permit from the city. The proposal is part of the application to obtain a development and building permit.

While we’re on the topic of permits, you will need a demolition permit in order to tear down any existing structures, like an old garage that needs to be cleared to make access possible for your garden suite.

3. Determine how to finance the project

Like any other construction project, how you will fund the planning, design, and construction of the project must be figured out early on. One of the great options to acquire funding to build a garden suite is by refinancing your home. Using the equity in your property allows you to have access to the funds to cover the cost of building a garden suite and expand your homeownership portfolio.

Since many communities are in favour of laneway homes, some municipalities have initiatives to support this venture and offer grants and other financial programs to help fund the building of laneway homes.

4. Start on the design

Designing your guest suite can be an exciting time because you can explore all kinds of different layout plans and design options. It is important that the design contains the necessary elements to make the home suitable for use for its intended purpose. The bylaws have certain requirements that need to be met to be in compliance with design regulations. Some of these include having 2 or more exterior finishing materials, an entrance that faces the road or lane, a balcony, and other requirements.

If the garden suite has a garage, there will need to be an entrance to the living space from the garage that is separate from the entrance to the garage. You also need to be mindful of the architectural style of the homes in your neighborhood when determining the best design for your garden suite. Also, choose a design that is sustainable long-term.

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5. Start building!

This is when all your planning pays off and you can actually break ground and see your vision come to life. There will be a lot of activity taking place on your property during the construction phase and it’s important to be mindful of how this may affect you and your neighbours. It may be a good idea to let your neighbours know of your plans ahead of time so they are prepared. While there is no way around all the hammering, trucks, and debris, try to find ways to create as little inconvenience to your neighborhood as possible. Keep your street accessible as far as possible.

To minimize disturbance, ask your contractor to schedule construction at times when it will be the least disruptive to you and your neighbours. It may be a good idea to give them a heads-up about your plan so that they are well-informed about the process. Be sure to stay informed every step of the way. Ask questions when clarification is needed and keep the communication lines open.

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There are several reasons why garden suites are the next best thing when it comes to housing options in Toronto. It allows renters to find more diverse housing options and gives homeowners the ability to earn additional income from their property. Once you know the process and follow through with it, the benefits are far-reaching.

Now is a great time to consider building a garden suite in your backyard. Black Pearl Custom Homes are well known in the construction business and have been building custom homes for homeowners in the GTA for decades. We’re here to help you get started on your garden suite. Get started today and join countless other homeowners in Toronto making good use of their backyard space.