Building a garden suite in Toronto
In Toronto, there has historically been a shortage of affordable housing options for families. Toronto has developed an abundance of small condo units in the past few decades, but for those looking for more space, they are left with competing for expensive low-rise homes in the city, or are being forced further and further into the suburbs. In July 2022, the addition of garden suites to existing residential lots was officially approved, paving the way for new housing supply in existing low-rise neighbourhoods.
In this guide, we’ll deep-dive into garden suites to understand their benefits, the process involved in building one, and whether they are the right fit for your housing and renovation needs.
Note that we will be updating this page to include more information and keep it relevant. We recommend that you bookmark this page and come back regularly to revisit its content and stay up-to-date with our latest home renovation tips.
What is a garden suite?
Garden suites are a new type of housing opportunity for homeowners and investors which allows them to add a fully separate residential unit, without the traditional hurdles and costs associated with development.
A garden suite is a small self-contained structure on the same lot as an existing property — it has its own living space, dining area, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom(s). It is built as a detached single or two-story unit in the backyard of low-rise residential properties. Depending on where the suite is built, some may also come with a garage.
As a growing trend in cities across North America, garden suites represent a viable middle option between a tiny condo and a fully-detached single-family home. These suites have also been called carriage houses, coach houses, granny flats, secondary suites, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Though sometimes mistaken for laneway houses, there is a distinction to be made. Unlike the former, garden suites do not need to be located on a lot that borders a public lane. This means that a higher number of properties in the city are now eligible for building a garden suite.
That being said, garden suites also share similarities with laneway houses. They are “non-severable” from the principal dwelling which means that they are still a part of the property on which they are built. These smaller homes remain under the same ownership as the main house. All utilities, like water, sewer, heating, and electricity will be connected to the latter. In other words, they cannot be turned into separate property.
Garden suites allow a single-family home to be converted into at least to three different units:
- The main house
- A secondary suite within the main house (e.g. a basement suite)
- An accessory structure (such as a laneway house or garden suite)
What can garden suites be used for?
Garden suites are often created as a way to provide additional space for multi-generational living or for rental purposes.
Housing loved ones and relatives
- Home for adult children who might not be able to afford to buy in the same area
- Residence for elderly parents or a caregiver
- Housing for family or friends who want to live close together but still maintain privacy
Generating rental income
- Earn a high cash flow on your property by building an additional rental unit on property you already own
- Reduce expenses by downsizing and moving into the garden suite, while renting out the primary residence
What are the benefits of building a garden suite?
There are tremendous benefits to building a garden suite: wealth creation, proximity to loved ones, and diversification of housing options.
Build and accumulate wealth
Building a garden suite will add both value and income to your property.
Garden suites allow homeowners, on top of developers, to benefit from new housing construction. Since they don’t rely on large developers, garden suites provide ordinary citizens with a way to invest in rental housing with minimal risk.
Even if the suite isn’t used as income, it can still add new value to your home. The versatility of a garden suite makes it a guaranteed investment. There is often more interest in garden suites among potential buyers, which gives your home an edge when it comes to selling.
There are a few ways in which you can use garden suites to generate financial gains:
- Build one and rent it out to a tenant or family member
- Build one and move in to downsize while renting out your main house for higher rent
Creating more housing options for the community
You can maximize the profit potential of your home by creating an additional residence (garden suite) on your property and using it as a rental housing unit. This in turn also helps create more accessible accommodations for people looking to live in your neighborhood, but who wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.
Subsidizing living expenses
Renting out your garden suite can offset your hefty monthly mortgage payments on your primary residence, putting that money back in your pocket. For example, a garden suite could be rented out for $2,500+ in most of the GTA, which can help you afford your dream home by covering your mortgage. Best of all, you won't need to buy additional land to build on — it's already there!
Keep family close while retaining your independence
Garden suites are a great option for aging residents or young professionals because they allow homeowners to build homes to accommodate their family members (elderly parents, grandparents, or adult children) or friends. Seniors can age in place within a community that they are familiar with. A garden suite provides additional support to adult children and young families when moving out by alleviating the burden of house hunting and mortgage/rent.
The presence of support nearby may mitigate the need for expensive social services such as daycare or caretakers. Garden suites can help you bring the family closer to home for a number of reasons, including health, support, and comfort.
Maintaining your own privacy
One of the benefits of a garden suite is the increased privacy it offers to both homeowners and tenants. With the suite in the backyard, it's the perfect way to keep family close without sacrificing their independence. Since the suite is separate from the primary house, there are no shared entrances or walls to transmit sound.
Diversify housing options within a neighborhood
North American cities are exploring new approaches to urban density due to growing populations and concerns over housing affordability. As part of Toronto’s Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON), a program focused on missing middle housing and gentle densification, garden suites will provide a greater variety of housing types that will help build more dense communities as well as provide cities with an efficient way to grow, addressing their housing needs.
Garden suites add more housing in low-density areas without changing the look, feel, or dynamics of the neighborhood by leveraging existing infrastructure and services. By using the existing property to accommodate more people, more residential opportunities are created.
From a social and environmental perspective, garden suites provide an opportunity to:
- Add gentle density
- Utilize existing infrastructure and residential investments to their full potential
- Rejuvenate aging neighborhoods
- Add rental housing to the market across the city
Garden suites are also sustainable because their small size requires less material, and their location allows them to use the main house's electricity and plumbing.
Are there challenges to building a garden suite?
Though it does have its set of benefits, garden suites can present challenges in terms of the construction itself. The concept of garden suites is relatively new, so existing examples to use as references are hard to come by. It might be difficult to understand what is possible and what is allowed when it comes to building a garden suite. Therefore, planning and construction may require some extra time and effort.
For example, laneway houses provide good access to the building site since they are usually big enough to accommodate concrete trucks and forklifts. In contrast, a garden suite might only have a three-foot-wide passageway between the main dwelling and the adjoining residence — which leaves little room to transport construction materials and equipment. Each tool and material may have to be brought to the building site by hand, piece by piece, instead of using vehicles.
What is the process of planning and building a garden suite?
The construction of garden suites is relatively new compared to more traditional homes, so examples of their construction may not be readily available. Building one can be a little tricky, but they are still very similar to other secondary homes, like additional dwelling units (ADUs).
Here is a high-level overview of how to build a garden suite in Toronto to guide you through your renovation journey and help you understand costs and requirements:
- Work with a Billdr Project Manager to assess your primary residence or investment property for the construction of a garden suite.
- Determine if your property can support a garden suite. Billdr connects you with design experts who can guide you through this step. With our feasibility study, you’ll be able to determine if your project meets zoning by-laws and explore other options if not.
- Get a detailed estimate based on your budget and design plans to apply for a permit. Once you get your preliminary drawings, you’ll be able to finalize your project’s total construction costs.
- Reach out to a financing firm, investors, or mortgage specialists to receive funding for your garden suite renovation project.
- Start construction on your new home once you have obtained financing and permit approval from your municipality.
Are garden suites legal in Toronto?
Garden suites have recently been approved in Toronto, introducing an alternative build option to the city's housing scene.
Here is a timeline of the legalization process of garden suites in Toronto:
June 2019 — ‘More Homes, More Choice Act’ passes across Ontario
In June 2019, Bill 108 — the More Homes More Choice Act — received Royal Assent in the Province of Ontario.
Since the passing of that act, municipalities across Ontario have been creating more options for homeowners to build secondary houses. Garden suites were allowed as additional units on residential properties, such as single-family homes.
February 2022 — Building Better Neighbourhoods alliance appeals
On February 2, 2022, City Council approved a bylaw allowing homeowners to build their own garden suites in their backyards after years of discussion and public consultation. Providing more affordable housing options is part of a strategy intended to ease Toronto's rental crunch.
However, this decision was quickly appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) by a group of Toronto resident associations called the Building Better Neighborhoods alliance, causing months of delays in its approval process.
Concerns were raised about adequate tree protection and whether multiplexes or low-rise apartment buildings should be eligible. Residents' groups argue that the bylaw should be tailored to different neighborhoods rather than imposed as one size fits all. They claimed that the city “clearly over-reached provincial regulations that limit garden suites to single-detached, semi-detached, and townhouses.”
June 2022 — The Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) dismisses the appeal
On June 2, 2022, the OLT dismissed the appeal, making garden suites a legal form of housing. Toronto residents can now officially build garden suites on their property as long as they follow the Garden Suites Bylaw and Official Plan Amendment.
Onwards — The future of garden suites
With the approval of garden suites and the growing garden movement, Toronto is hoping to further its missing middle development options as per its EHON initiative. Bylaws will be re-evaluated by the city within two years (or after the initial 200 garden suites are built).
What are the rules and regulations to obtain a permit for a garden suite?
Municipalities in Canada are adopting and refining zoning by-laws to encourage the growth of affordable housing. Other cities in Ontario (Barrie, Kitchener) and across the country (like Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton) already allow garden suites. Toronto carefully examined those plans to see what worked best in terms of zoning issues.
As a result of the new regulation, obtaining a permit is less complicated, and structures being built as accommodations are safe and in compliance with zoning laws. If a proposed garden suite is in line with area planning regulations, such as maximum building height, it only needs a building permit to be constructed. Construction permits for garden suites can be issued if the application meets all Building Code requirements.
Here are a few examples of requirements:
There are height limitations for garden suites. The unit must be smaller than the main house and provide access to emergency services, while trees and green space must be protected. Garden suites can be a maximum of 4-6 meters tall, depending on their distance from the main house. If your structure exceeds the limits, neighbors can notify the City’s building and construction department to file a civil suit, citing an impact on the value of their property.
Area / Property size
According to David Driedger, a senior planner with the City of Toronto, garden suites "can take up 40 percent of the rear backyard area, up to a maximum footprint of 60 square meters [or 646 square feet]."
While the zoning requirements do not require a minimum lot size, “various factors such as the location and size of a suite, lot width and/or depth, the size of the main dwelling, adequate emergency access, and the location of mature trees will influence whether or not a property can accommodate a garden suite.” It should be noted that lot coverage and setback requirements may limit the use of the total size.
Type of property
While all residential zones qualify for the construction of a garden suite, setback, lot coverage, and other requirements can eliminate a number of properties. We recommend reaching out to your municipality or consulting their website for more details on which properties are eligible.
Number of dwellings
A garden suite must be constructed as a single dwelling. Your primary residence, however, can be eligible for the conversion to a duplex or an accessory apartment. This option offers various streams of revenue to offset some of your living expenses.
You will need to post a public notice on your property when you submit your permit. By doing so, your neighbors will be informed of the potential build while the City will be able to collect data and monitor its construction.
Any garden suite that doesn’t meet local zoning bylaws can request a minor variance application with the Committee of Adjustment. During that process, the City reviews your application to determine whether the variance complies with plan policies and zoning bylaws.
To see if your property is eligible, view the City of Toronto’s Garden Suites By-law to learn more about regulations, requirements, and key considerations for adding a garden suite to your property.
How much does it cost to build a garden suite?
Building a garden suite is less expensive than buying or building a new home. François Abbott, an architect and owner of Toronto's Fabrication Studio, states "it's the cheapest possible option to make a new dwelling in the city. And then it adds value right away to your home, and so you have either income or enjoyment from your own use of the garden suite.”
According to Maclean’s, “with HST and drawings, a garden suite can average about $500 a square foot. A similar-sized condo in Toronto starts at around $1,000. A lot of the value comes from the land itself, and with a garden suite, you or someone you know already owns the land, you’re just building on top of it. It’s a bonus.”
Ready to tackle your garden suite renovation?
A successful garden suite renovation comes down to careful planning and project management. Billdr can guide you through the garden suite application and construction process by helping you work with your budget, navigate building code requirements and zoning by-laws, and understand your construction costs.
Tell us about your project to get a defined project scope, budget estimate, two-to-three comparable quotes from certified contractors, and a feasibility study to understand what’s possible in terms of zoning.