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  • Writer's pictureScott Clark

Ontario Permits: Six Things You Need to Know

As you embark on your renovation or new home or cottage construction, there are a series of permits and guidelines that must be applied for prior to building commencement. These can include—but not necessarily all pertinent to your build—demolition, building, septic, entrance, and occupancy permits.

When it comes to securing these permits, here are six things you need to know:

1. Why are building permits necessary?

Building permits help protect you and your home, making sure the project is structurally sound and follows the Ontario Building Code, municipal zoning and other applicable laws. Whether you are building a new home or cottage or renovating an existing one, you want to make sure the result is safe and legal for you and any future occupants.

The Ontario Building Code regulates many aspects of construction and is enforced by local municipalities. Some examples of what the Ontario Building Code regulates are:

  1. Foundations

  2. Structural framing

  3. Insulation requirements

  4. Plumbing and mechanical systems

  5. Requirements that apply when the use of a building changes

2. When are building permits required?

Most construction projects require the property owner, or a representative, to apply for and obtain a building permit. When working with a building and/or renovation professional, they will obtain these permits on behalf of the owner and will include the cost in your total project estimate.

Specifically, a permit is required when you are:

  1. Building a new structure that is larger than ten metres squared (108 square feet)

  2. Building any addition to an existing structure

  3. Renovating, including alterations, that affect your building’s compliance with building regulations (known as Material Alteration*)

  4. Demolishing all, or part of, a building

  5. Installing new, or altering existing, mechanical or plumbing systems

*Material Alteration refers to alterations that will affect your project’s compliance with building regulations. For example, if a project involves alterations to the structural design of the building; mechanical, electrical, plumbing services; fire separations; and existing fire protection systems; and/or a change to the use of a building.

Work that requires a building permit

Generally, all of the following work requires a building permit before beginning construction:

  • Carport/attached garage

  • Interior renovations including:

    • Basement finishes

    • Accessory apartments or the addition of a second suite

    • New or altered plumbing or mechanical system

  • Window/door (if a new opening is created or existing opening is enlarged)

  • Drain repair

  • Chimney/fireplace (other than direct vent gas fireplace)

  • Recladding with brick or stone veneer

  • Any and all additions

  • Backwater valve installation

  • Exterior basement stairwell or entrance

  • Pool fence enclosure

  • Deck/porch/balcony (if the deck is more than 60 centimetres (24 inches) above the ground)

  • Accessory structure (if greater than ten square metres, such as a garage)

  • Dock repair other than deck boards

3. How do you get a building permit?

Every project is unique and your building permit process is determined by the scope of your project. Generally, the permitting process has five steps:

  1. Determining if your project complies with zoning and applicable laws

  2. Drafting your own plans or hiring a qualified designer to prepare your application and drawings

  3. Applying for a building permit application to your local municipality and obtaining a permit

  4. Starting construction and calling for your inspections

  5. Closing your permit by calling for your final inspection

Permits are obtained from the municipality in which you are renovating or building your new home or cottage. The building department examines the drawings to determine if your designer/architect is following current Ontario Building Code guidelines, engineering accuracy, as well as reviewing electrical, plumbing, septic and HVAC design. Once processed and passed, the building department will provide inspections at intervals of your building completion. This occurs to ensure that the builder is following the drawings and therefore Ontario Building Code guidelines.

Once the occupancy permit is obtained, a final inspection is done to verify that the build is complete and fully meets Ontario Building Code standards. At this stage, and once the building department has signed off on all permit inspections, the building is considered complete.

4. How much does a building permit cost?

Each permit is priced differently with the most expensive usually being the building permit which is typically based on a percentage of the overall build cost. Each separate structure, such as a garage or boathouse, will need a separate permit. Generally speaking, permit costs are typically a percentage of the build total value and varies by municipality.

To determine the cost of a building permit on any structure in Muskoka Lakes Township region as an example, the Township must first calculate the approximate value of the finished product. Under the current rates, the square footage of a home is multiplied by $1.55/sq. ft. of finished floor area or $200, whichever is greater and $11 for every $1,000 of construction value.

For example, building a 2,000 square foot home or cottage valued at $700,000, the cost of the building permit would be $10,800. For boat houses or garages, the square footage is multiplied by $0.75 per sq. ft. with a minimum $200 fee.

5. Who is responsible for the permit – me or my contractor/builder?

As the owner of the home being renovated or constructed, you are entirely and solely responsible for the building permits required for your project. This includes applying for them, ensuring they’re the right ones for your project, paying the fees, etc. However, when working with a builder like Edenlane Muskoka, we will obtain these permits and will include their cost in the total construction estimate. However, despite your contractor or builder applying for permits on your behalf, you are still ultimately responsible for them so make sure you’re selecting a reputable company who understands the permit application process and requirements in your municipality.

6. How long does it take to get a building permit?

The timeline for getting a building permit, from the moment you apply until you can begin your project, can vary greatly. The general approval process can vary from one municipality to the next, but the biggest factor that influences the timeline is the type of project.

The type and scope of the project influences the by-laws that must be followed, as well as the documentation required to support that all regulations are being respected – and all this influences the time it takes for your municipality to approve your application request. Technically, the time frame on a permit application for a home or cottage is 10 business days as per the Ontario Building Code no matter the municipality. However, this may fluctuate depending upon the number of applications received, and any other factors that may impact it such as Covid-19.

While you can’t control the length of the review process for your project, you can help it go as quickly as possible by ensuring you’ve submitted all the correct documents you need for your application. The more complex the project, the more documentation you will need, so it’s important to take the time to double-check your application before submitting it. If your builder is submitting the application on your behalf, working with a local builder will ensure that everything required is submitted with your application to ensure a quick turnaround. If submitting the application on your own, your municipality will be able to provide you with the exact list of what is required, either on their website, or by contacting them at the building department. If you are missing any plans, drawings, or forms from your application, there will be an additional delay while you acquire these items and then resubmit the entirety of the application.

Some final words on permits

Ask for copies of each of the building inspection reports from your builder at every stage of the process. This will allow you to understand what stage your build is in and keep your builder accountable for following the right guidelines and processes. It will also help ensure that inspections are being done as required and give you full visibility into items that have been deemed complete or incomplete before continuing with the next phase of construction.

While the inspection process can be stressful, remember that the inspector is there to help you ensure your new home is built in accordance with Ontario Building Code requirements and that it will last a long time.

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