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Renovation tips

6 min read

An Essential Guide to Ontario Building Permits

Building permit with construction plans
Building permit with construction plans
Renovation tips

6 min read

An Essential Guide to Ontario Building Permits

Renovation tipsAn Essential Guide to Ontario Building Permits

Ready to get to work tearing down a wall in your living room, moving the location of your kitchen sink, or adding a whole new section to your house? Not so fast! Before work commences, you must ask yourself an important question: Do I need a building permit?

You may want to jump head first into your renovations, but figuring out whether or not you need a permit is a crucial first step towards completing your home project — something that’s typically easier said than done. 

Fortunately, to help you make the right decision, we’ve written this article to empower homeowners to not only confidently assess whether or not they need a building permit for their renovations, but answer any frequently asked questions as well.

Who needs a building permit and how do you get one?

Houses in construction

Source: Canva

Whether you plan on doing your own home renovations or hiring a contractor to do it for you, it remains the responsibility of the homeowner to make sure that the necessary building permit has been acquired. 

Building permit application and requirements

To obtain your permit, you can submit a building permit application to the planning office of your local municipality, which can typically be done online or in-person, or on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s website. Note that the provincial government will not handle your application, only your municipal government.

No matter the route you take, detailed building plans are required for any building renovation or alterations in order to obtain a permit. These plans must adhere to the regulations outlined in the Ontario Building Code, municipal zoning by-laws, and specific provisions outlined in the Environmental Protection Act.

Thankfully, should you choose to hire a contractor, they will typically take care of this whole process on your behalf with any applicable fees being added onto your bill. Once more, however, it ultimately remains the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure this process has been completed.

Don’t forget to display your permit in an easily visible location like a window.

When is a building permit required?

Field in construction with contractors

Source: Canva

Figuring out whether or not you need to get a permit can be determined by the nature of your project. Answering the following question will help: Is my renovation project structural, like making a new doorway between rooms, or aesthetic, like adding a shelf in your kitchen?

As the Ontario government outlines, a structural renovation, which does require a building permit, is defined as:

  • Building any new structure exceeding ten square meters in area (108 square feet), like a mobile home, or installing another form of construction on your property

  • Undertaking renovations or repairs, or expanding an existing building

  • Changing a building’s use

  • Constructing or excavating a foundation

  • Anything relating to the installation, modification, expansion, or maintenance of an on-site sewage or septic system

Read more about building permits across Canadian provinces here, in our article. For those located in Toronto, we have an article specifically about building permits in "The 6ix."

What renovations require a building permit?

Demolition: Demolition projects are messy and complex, often requiring permits, especially if they impact neighboring properties or involve significant structural changes like removing load-bearing walls.

Extensions, Additions, or Layout Changes: Altering your home's structure or layout typically necessitates permits. This includes major renovations like adding a second story, building a garage or detached carports, or converting existing spaces.

Roofing: Roofing projects, such as adding skylights or altering the roof's pitch, for example, usually require permits, while minor repairs may be subject to municipal regulations.

Electricity and Plumbing: Renovations involving electrical or plumbing systems typically require permits due to safety concerns. Examples include installing new wiring or upgrading appliances like furnaces or water heaters.

Fences and Decks: While not altering the home's layout, fences and decks often require permits, especially for height restrictions or if they impact neighboring properties.

Chimneys and Fireplaces: Projects involving fire-related elements, like chimneys and fireplaces, usually require permits to ensure safety and compliance with regulations. Exceptions may apply for routine maintenance tasks.

Which projects do not require a building permit?

Unlike structural renovations, aesthetic renovations do not require a building permit. These renovations include, but are not limited to:

Countertop and cupboard installations: Installing countertops or cupboards in your home does not usually require a building permit as no structural changes are taking place.

Window and door replacements: Replacing windows and doors without altering the structure.

Flooring installations: Installing new floors, whether it's hardwood, laminate, or tile.

Minor repairs: Performing minor repairs like fixing drywall or patching small holes does not typically require a building permit.

Carpeting installations: Installing new carpeting or flooring materials like vinyl or linoleum.

Be it a structural renovation or aesthetic, it’s always advised to speak with your contractor or contact your municipal government’s planning office to discuss your project with them.

What does a building permit cost in Ontario?

Building permit paper with plan and calculator 

Source: Canva

Unfortunately, applying for a building permit is not free. Furthermore, whether you’re charged a flat fee, a rate per square metre, or a combination of both, it will change depending on your location and the type of project. 

For examples of what you can expect to pay, here is a 2023 list of building permit costs from major Ontario municipalities compiled by Contractors Insurance:

  • Toronto: Around $17.16 per square metre

  • Mississauga: About $16.94 per square metre

  • Oakville: About $17.15 per square metre

  • Vaughan: Around $15.36 per square metre

  • Ottawa: $80 minimum fee + $11 per $1,000 of project valuation for existing buildings (read more here)

  • London: $200.65 minimum fee, plus additional fees as applicable

  • Barrie: $164.16 minimum fee, plus additional fees

  • Sudbury: $4.57 per square foot for residential projects

Why do you need a building permit?

Meeting with a judge for infraction

Source: Canva

While we understand that dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of government processes can be frustrating, obtaining a building permit is a crucial step in ensuring the legality, the quality of construction projects, and the safety for both the property owner and the community as a whole.

What happens if you build without a permit? The fines and fees

Failure to obtain a permit, an offense under the Building Code Act, 1992, is a fine of $50,000 for a first infraction, and up to $100,000 for repeated offenses. Under this same act, it’s also an offense to not comply with orders from the municipal building department. 

For companies, the penalties are even harsher. They can expect a maximum fine of $500,000 for their first infraction, and up to $1,500,000 for repeated offenses.

Should you be caught, you can expect extra work as you’ll be required to stop construction, potentially have to redo parts of the renovation, and your insurance may be voided. So, don’t take any unnecessary risks and play by the book — get your building permit.

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Last modified 2024-04-27

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