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Bylaws and Zoning! Important if you plan a Duplex Conversion

When I was looking for my first investment in Real Estate, many investors whom were more seasoned would tell me over and over that the best way to make a return is to buy a single family home and convert it to a duplex. I had heard it so many times that it sounded easy. Buy, Reno, Rent, easy as 1, 2, 3! But is it? The short answer is no. First, you need to do some homework on the house that you are going to buy. Check the bylaws and zoning to make sure you CAN do what you intend to do. Let me demonstrate through my own experience.

First, city bylaws do not allow every home to just add a basement unit. You have to check the bylaws and zoning for the home that you are considering. As an example, my wife and I own 2 investment properties in St Catharines that are both zoned R2 – Low Density Residential – Traditional Neighbourhood. R1 and R4 zoning does not allow duplexes. R2 zoning requires a minimum of 6027 square feet (560 square meters) of the property to allow a duplex. One property has well below this size at 3843 square feet, while the other is just short at 6020 square feet. If either had met this minimum it would simply be a matter of applying for permits and getting the appropriate trades and professionals involved. So if we had done our homework (Or had been advised on this matter) and knew to look for this minimum size property, this story would have been a very short article.

But what could I do now that neither of these meets that minimum? There were two alternatives. First, the property that has fallen significantly short of the minimum can instead have an Accessory Dwelling Unit. This unit can be up to 645 sq feet (60 sq meter) or 40% of the floor area of the dwelling unit including the basement, whichever is less. Which allowed us to put a wall in the basement separating the unit and making the laundry area a shared area. But then, the basement unit did not have its own dedicated entrance and we had to take into consideration other issues such as egress through the windows.

As for the property that is just shy of the minimum, what can we do there? Because it was only slightly deficient we could have put an application in to the Committee of Adjustment for a Minor Variance. This application comes with a fee that in 2019 was $1,454.85 but increases slightly year over year. This application goes to that committee to make a decision on, and you must submit your planning rationale/justification with your application. Regardless, it is not a guaranteed result. Due to our specific deficiency being only minor and consistent with the intent of the City’s Official Plan and Zoning By-Law, it would most likely be approved.

There is also the question of parking. There must be 1 parking spot per unit on the property. Check with the zoning for your particular property as some areas require tandem, while others can be in front of each other. A standard parking spot must be at minimum 2.6 meters wide by 5.2 meters deep. If it has an obstacle such as a wall on one side, the spot must be at least 3 meters wide. If it is obstructed on both sides, the spot must be at minimum 3.5 meters wide. If it is two spots in tandem, they must each be at least 3.4 meters wide with a 1.5 meter hatched access aisle between them. Parking area coverage may only take up 50% of the width of your front yard and/or exterior side yard with a maximum width of 50% or 7.5 meters whichever is less. Total overall parking area coverage cannot exceed 20% of the total lot area.

As you can see from my own personal experience, a little bit of homework up front regarding bylaws and zoning can save you a lot of work later. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable Real Estate Agent who can bring these things to your attention.

In an earlier article we addressed some of the requirements to bring your conversion from single family to duplex up to code. You can read that article here: Single Family To Duplex? Easy Reno Or Significant Owrk?

If you have any questions regarding Real Estate investment, please contact Ryan Ligeza. I look forward to hearing from you.

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