“Eighty-five per cent of basement suites are not legal at all,” says Clive McLean, an agent in Toronto. “There are a lot of agents who are vague [about the legality of the apartment].”
As home prices across the country skyrocket, many clients have turned to income suites to offset the high cost of homeownership. However, many are unaware – or choose to overlook – the legalities of providing such accommodations.
“I verify with the city when a client tells me it’s a legal apartment,” McLean says, urging colleagues to do the same. “I don’t take anyone’s word for it, learned from experience on that.”
Agents should ensure the property is covered by the appropriate zoning allowing for multi-family dwellings. The suite must also comply with fire code and building code regulations.
“The in-law suites or nanny suites have one major restriction – a kitchen,” says Stan Russocki, a broker with Forest Hill Real Estate in Toronto. “The moment you add a kitchen, you have an apartment and you can’t do that unless you have a building permit, and that comes with the window size restrictions and egress and ceiling height requirements.”
Instead of costly renovations to remove the kitchen, or a lengthy process to get the appropriate permitting in place, some agents list the suite as “legal non-conforming”, which as Russocki explains, is a fancy way of saying illegal.
“The majority of basement suites in the city, agents will claim they’re legal non-conforming, and that’s a contradiction,” he says, calling on listing agents to rein in on the practice. “It’s an obvious obligation of the listing agent to tell the facts as they exist.”
While fiduciary responsibility may ultimately rest with the broker, industry pros are calling on agents to verify the legality of their sellers’ income suites. Good luck with that, BTW.