Obtaining a building permit in the Greater Toronto Area

A building permit is an authorization from your municipality to undertake certain renovation projects. Through this guide we will cover what types of projects require a building permit, the process to obtain a building permit, the costs and processing times of a building permit.

Do I need a building permit for my renovation project?

If you are planning renovations that change the function of a room, or modify the structure of the property, or even modify the exterior envelope visible from the street, you will need to apply for a building permit from your municipality.

Here are some examples of work that commonly require a permit:

  • Home extension
  • Reinforcement or underpinning of the foundations
  • Installation of new stairs and/or a new balcony
  • Installation of a pool
  • Finishing a basement as a secondary suite, or if it requires any structural changes or plumbing installation
  • Building a shed, cabana, garage, or other accessory structure >108 sq ft in area

How much does it cost to get a building permit in the GTA?

For a residential property the cost of a building permit varies according to the type of project, the size of the project, and the municipality where it is located.

For example, in the City of Toronto, a building permit costs $4.93/m2 for interior renovations or $17.16/m2 for new additions. In Toronto, a 500 sq ft (47 m2) basement renovation, the cost would be $231.71. For a 1000 sq ft home extension, the cost would be $1,595.88.

Requirements for a building permit application

The city will ask you to submit site plans, a survey, architectural plans, and engineering plans to your building permit application. Architectural plans provide information on the final layout of the part of your building to be renovated. While the engineering plans are used to provide the information required for the work to be done on each structural component of the project. The City may also request to see a 3D plan in certain cases.

Each municipality of the Greater Toronto area has different by-laws regarding the modifications that can be made to your property.

You can refer to the BizPal website for specific details on permits required for construction projects in your municipality.

How long is the building permit valid in Ontario?

In Ontario, construction must begin within 6 months of the building permit being approved, unless you receive an extension from the Chief Building Official.

Once the building permit has expired, you will have to reapply for a building permit if the work has not been completed on time.

How long does it take to get a building permit in Ontario?

Under the Ontario Building Code, the period in which a permit shall be either issued or refused is in most cases 10-15 business days from the day after a permit application is submitted, and this guideline applies to all municipalities in the Province of Ontario. To avoid any delays, we always recommend working with a qualified and experienced designer to ensure your application is correct the first time it is submitted.

Processing times of a request vary by municipality and the time of the year you make your request.

In cases where a minor variance is required under applicable zoning by-laws, a proposal must also be submitted to a local committee of adjustments for review. This is often required for projects involving a home addition or extension, construction of a new building on the property, or a substantial renovation. The frequency in which these committees meet to review applications varies by municipality. For these types of projects, we always recommend planning for an additional 2-3 months to complete the design and approval process.

What are the risks of not applying for a building permit?

If you do not have a permit for work that has already started, and it turns out you need a permit for that work, you could face serious – and potentially costly – consequences, including:

  • A “work without permit” penalty. In the City of Toronto, this is an additional fee equal to 50 percent of the permit fees for the project, or $198.59 (2021 rate), whichever is greater, to a maximum of $27,234.64 (2021 rate).
  • A delay while your permit application is processed. All work must stop during this time. The original timeline and fees to process an application still apply.
  • Possibly having to undo the work that was done.
  • Possibly having to do more work than you had originally planned and budgeted for, such as additional structural or mechanical work.
  • Possible legal and/or financial issues down the road, such as impacts on selling your property or making an insurance claim.

What is zoning approval and when is it required?

Zoning approval means that the city or municipality in which the building is located has verified that the proposed changes to the building conform to applicable zoning by-laws.

You may need a zoning approval certificate to include with your building permit application if any of the following are true:

  • You are proposing a new construction
  • You are changing the footprint of an existing building (adding an extension - either vertical or horizontal)
  • You are changing the occupancy use of the building (e.g. converting to a duplex, converting between residential and commercial)
  • You are proposing major changes to the exterior/facade of an existing building

There is a fee associated with obtaining a zoning certificate. In Toronto, for example, the fee is equivalent to 25% of the applicable building permit fee.

What happens if my proposal doesn’t comply with current zoning by-laws?

Assuming the proposal only presents a minor variance to the current by-laws, you will be able to apply to the City or municipality for formal zoning approval. This process will often include a public hearing and decision by a local planning committee.

While the process may seem daunting at first, it is a common, well-defined process. Working with an experienced design professional (for example an Architect or Architectural Technologist) is a great idea, since they are familiar with the process and can help guide you.

Billdr's tips

  • Plan your project 3-6 months in advance if you know it requires a city permit because you have no control on the processing times with your municipality, and will require additional time to obtain the required documentation.
  • For most residential projects, instead of hiring an architect, you can hire a technologist with a BCIN (Building Code Identification Number) and the required certification for the type of project you wish to do.

A building permit is generally required if your renovation impacts the structure of your property, the external envelope or changes the function of part of your dwelling. Costs and timelines vary by municipality, so be sure to check with your city’s building department to confirm.

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