The Fire Code is a subset of the Building Code. It prescribes construction and safety issues as they relate to how the building is required to perform should it catch fire. A significant distinction with the fire code is that it can apply retroactively.
The Fire Code can be applied retroactively A new Fire Code was developed that applies to specifically to basement apartments. The code applies to all basement apartments whether existing or new. Owners must ensure that their apartment complies with the new Fire Code and must obtain a certificate of compliance.
There are usually four components of the Inspection that must be met:
1. Fire Containment or Separation of Suites
2. Fire alarms – Units must have working smoke alarms
3. Egress – There must be safe way out for occupants.
4. Electrical – Must have ESA inspection.
By-laws are created in some municipalities to prevent basement apartments as a nuisance protection for the neighbours.
Basement Apartments – The History
After 1993, a permit was required to change a home from single family to multi-family.
In 1994, the government in Ontario said that we could ignore local bylaws that prohibited second dwelling units in houses if certain conditions were met.
In 1994, the province set new Fire Code rules for basement apartments. A deadline was established for all existing basement apartments to upgrade to the new fire code.
In 1995, the Provincial government told municipalities that they could enforce their bylaws regarding basement apartments. A grand-fathering clause says that apartments existing before November 1995 do not have to meet local bylaws.
TWO-UNIT HOUSES (SECOND SUITES) Barrie ON – Local By-law
WHAT IS A TWO-UNIT HOUSE?
A two-unit house is a building that contains two residential dwelling units. Commonly, a two-unit house starts as a single dwelling unit (detached, semidetached or townhouse) with a second dwelling unit created within the house later on. The second unit is sometimes referred to as a second suite, an inlaw suite or a basement apartment. Duplexes & semi-detached units located on the same property are also considered as two-unit houses.
Effective January 1, 2004 the City of Barrie requires every two-unit house within the city to be registered. As part of the registration process, the City will confirm that the two-unit house is legal under the City’s Zoning By-law, and that the house complies with several health and safety regulations.
WHY DO TWO_UNIT HOUSES NEED TO BE REGISTERED?
There are probably a couple thousand two-unit houses in the city. Concerned that many of these units may be illegal and/or unsafe for the occupants, the City of Barrie has adopted a by-law to require every two-unit house to be registered. Through the registration process the house will be inspected to confirm compliance with the Zoning By-law, the Building Code, the Fire Code and the Property Standards By-law. Any unregistered two-unit house is a contravention of the Registration By-law.
HOW OFTEN DO I HAVE TO REGISTER?
Registration of a two-unit house is a one-time event. Under the current legislation, you do not have to re-register, unless your registration was revoked.
CAN THE CITY REVOKE BY REGISTRATION?
Yes. The registration does not need to be renewed, but you must always continue to maintain your building in compliance with Part 2 of the Fire Code and with the Property Maintenance By-law. If your building is inspected, usually at the invitation of a disgruntled tenant, and contraventions of the maintenance regulations are found, you will be served an order to remedy the contraventions within a time limit. If you do not make the repairs within the time specified, you may face penalties under either the Fire Code or the Property Standards By-law. In addition, the registrar may revoke your registration. Any continued use of the house as a two-unit house without being registered would be a separate violation, subject to its own penalties. Registration can also be revoked if the house ceases to be used as a two-unit house. Applications to re-register a two-unit house would be subject to the rules and fees in effect at that time.
Toronto’s Second Suites By-law
On July 6, 2000, the City of Toronto’s new “second suites bylaw (493-2000)” came into effect. This bylaw permits second suites in all single-detached and semi-detached houses throughout the City of Toronto, with certain conditions.
Some of the conditions include:
• the second suite must be self-contained with its own kitchen and bathroom;
• the house, including any additions, must be at least five years old;
• the floor area of the second suite must be smaller than the remaining part of the house;
• in most cases, a home with a second suite must have at least two parking spaces;
• all existing second suites must comply with the Ontario Fire Code, zoning and property standards
For prospective purchasers of these properties, once the legality of the apartment has been established, then it must be insured that it meets health and fire standards. This can be established by the production of a “Letter of Compliance” from the local Fire Department or the municipality. If this inspection has never been done, or was done a great length of time ago, you may wish to have an Independent Fire Code Inspector report on the conditions to-day.
Retrofit legislation calls for the maintenance of the fire safety measures originally built into these two family units. If proper compliance is not indicated at this time you may wish to negotiate with the vendor to perform these upgrades prior to closing, or you may wish to adjust the price accordingly and do the work yourself.
Ontario Fire Code Information
Owners of houses containing two self-contained residential units (dwelling units) are now required to bring their buildings into compliance with the new fire safety regulation adopted under the Ontario Fire Code. Tenants in these buildings are entitled to ask their landlords to make sure that the fire regulations are met.
Some of these Regulations are summarized below.
1.0 What is a Dwelling Unit ?
A dwelling unit is a room or suite of rooms operated as a self-contained housekeeping unit that includes independent cooking, eating, living, sleeping and bathroom facilities.
2.0 Buildings Covered by the New Fire Code Regulation ?
The regulation applies to detached houses, and semi-detached houses, and row houses that contain two existing dwelling units. The two dwelling units may be located anywhere in the house.
3.0 What are the Requirements ?
In general, the regulation contained in the Ontario Fire Code addresses four fire safety issues:
3.1 Fire separation
The owner has three options for compliance with the fire separation for each dwelling unit
3.2 Means of Escape.
Four options are provided for compliance with the means of escape from each dwelling unit.
3.3 Smoke Alarms
Depending on the option selected for fire separation and means of escape, it may be necessary to install electrically wired, interconnected smoke alarms throughout the house. Interconnected smoke alarms are designed to sound simultaneously when any one smoke alarm is activated, providing early warning to all occupants of the house at the same time.
Where interconnected smoke alarms are not installed, every dwelling unit must be equipped with a battery operated or electrically wired smoke alarm on every floor level that contains a bedroom or sleeping area.
All smoke alarms must be maintained in working condition, and they must be audible in the bedrooms when the bedroom door is closed.
3.4 Electrical Safety
The owner must also arrange for the house to be inspected by “the Electrical Safety Authority” and to correct all fire safety hazards identified through this inspection.
4.0 Who is Responsible With Complying With the Regulation ?
The owner is responsible for complying with the provisions of the Ontario Fire Code. Penalties for non-compliance can be up to $50,000 fines and up to one year in prison for individuals.
Owners should be aware that bringing existing houses into compliance with the new regulation may require repairs or alterations for which a building permit is needed under the Building Code Act.
Every municipality and city has different by-laws regarding second suites or basement apartments, ensure you consult with yours before making your investment decision.
Written by Roger Frost