If you’ve heard that tiny living is illegal in Ontario, chances are things have improved since then. The past couple of years saw home prices in Ontario skyrocket. With the increasing pressure on provincial and municipal governments to ensure access to affordable housing, tiny houses have come on the scene as an official, government-approved private market solution.
The provincial government has made recent strides in making tiny homes a legal and realistic option, and we’re talking as recent as 2019-2020!
While some brave trailblazers across Ontario have been living under the radar for years, or owning RV-certified tiny cottages, now is the time to get into tiny living if you’ve wanted to do it full time.
Ontarians, here’s what you need to know to live legally in a tiny house:
- Tiny houses are perfectly legal in Ontario. The minimum size for a separate dwelling that can be used year-round is 188 sqft.
- According to the Ontario building code, the tiny house can be on wheels or not. However, most municipalities have not yet caught up to this and are defining tiny houses on wheels as mobile homes, usually allowed only in mobile home parks.
- You will need a building permit. Your municipality will review the suitability of the lot and the house plan:
- Lot: you can park/build your tiny home on an empty lot or on a lot that already has a house, as a secondary dwelling. Both cases will have size, setback, etc. zoning rules.
- House plan: The house must conform to the Ontario building code and there will be multiple inspections throughout the building process. If your house is built in a facility CSA-certified for building manufactured homes, you don’t need additional inspections. However, RV certifications don’t cut it.
- These regulations don’t apply to cottages or other seasonal-use homes.
“Underwater stones” to watch for when buying or building a tiny house in Ontario:
- If you have a house on wheels, you will likely not be able to have a sleeping loft. The ceiling height regulations are just too limiting. Also, sleeping lofts must be accessed by stairs (not ladders), with appropriate railings and barriers. Given that the sleeping loft is such a common design element in tiny houses, this is important to know as you look at floor plans for tiny living in Ontario.
- Buying a used tiny house or importing is probably out of the question. Because the rather stringent inspection requirements are designed for houses built on-site, where the municipal inspector visits your construction site to inspect every stage of the build, buying a ready-built tiny house will result in challenges. Unless the house is already certified by an Ontario inspector, or it’s built in a CSA manufactured home-certified facility, it is very unclear how it can be inspected.
- Moving the house is going to be difficult. For the same reasons as above, if you build your house on one lot and then want to move it to another in another province, or even another municipality, it may run into problems with the inspections.
- Check that the builder is certified and builds to Ontario Building Code. Just because a builder is located in Canada or even Ontario does not mean that they are certified. A lot of tiny homes are built to RV standards to serve as cottages and are not certified for year-round living.
- Watch the insulation requirements. Insulation requirements are different for different areas of Canada and even different parts of Ontario, depending on climate. It’s best to “overshoot” than end up with an under-insulated house.
- You can’t be completely independent of services. Your house can have a composting or other non-flush toilet (such as an incinerating toilet), it can be off-grid for power. But you will likely still need to have a water and grey-water hookup.
Urban, Suburban, and Rural tiny house locations
Depending on how populated the area you want to live in, there will be some other considerations as pointed out by the Ontario guide to tiny houses.
Urban and suburban areas in Ontario
In more populated areas, you will find more regulations and you may find yourself having to work through them like a jigsaw puzzle.
- Generally no minimums on square footage. Besides the Building Code minimum of 188 sqft, there are no additional minimums on residential buildings in zoning by-laws (although, we haven’t read them all, so it’s best to check).
- Secondary units are allowed across Ontario. As Ontario struggles to add more affordable housing, most municipalities have now made it easy to build a secondary residential unit in a lot that already has a house. The “easy” varies from city to city, but in many cities in Ontario, you don’t need rezoning to build on most residential properties and development charges are waived.
- Wheels are generally not welcome. Tiny houses on wheels are still considered to be mobile homes in many municipalities and only allowed in mobile home parks. Although, some places, such as Leeds & Thousand Islands treat tiny houses on wheels the same as those on a foundation.
- Services are usually required. Inside urban and suburban areas, the requirement is usually that your tiny house be connected to municipal services – water, sewer, and sometimes electricity.
Rural areas in Ontario
If the area you are looking at is zoned Rural or Agricultural, you will likely find that regulations are more flexible. Still, it’s best to check with the municipality that the land is part of.
- Tiny houses on wheels may be allowed. For example, the City of Greater Sudbury allows tiny houses on wheels in these rural areas even though they are not allowed in the city.
- You may need private services. In many areas, a suitability study will need to be done to check whether the land can provide enough well water and your septic system will work. However, there can be more flexibility with regards to alternative arrangements. For example, the land owner can show how they plan to deliver you water and take away your grey water on a regular basis.
Ontario becoming friendlier to tiny houses
It is becoming easier to live legally in a tiny house. You no longer have to hide it in the back of someone’s wooded lot – tiny houses are actually being encouraged by the province of Ontario and most municipalities within it.
Some hurdles remain – it is still very unclear how someone with a tiny house on wheels built to the Ontario building code can find a place to park. However, we are seeing tiny houses as a topic of discussion, reports, and reviews coming up regularly in planning committees across the province. It’s starting to look like a movement, and one that is still quite young and will only continue to gain momentum.