213 Sterling Road
Suite 200B
Toronto (ON)
M6R 2B2

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Toronto By-Law Guides

Laneway Suites and Garden Suites are new architectural typologies in Toronto aimed at diversifying the housing mix in neighbourhoods. While they are relatively similar interventions, the by-laws that apply to them vary slightly.

Laneway suites are more independent since they can be accessed via laneways that abut the property.

Garden suites can be built in backyards that do not abut laneways and must be accessed via the property, implying a more intimate relationship between occupants.

If you know the dimensions of your lot and house, these visual guides will allow you to understand what you can build and if it is valuable for you.  If you have any questions, feel free to email us.  A starting point for all discussions and plans is a recent survey with topography. 

Are you looking to build a laneway house or a garden suite?

Before You Begin

One of the most common starting points for the design and construction of secondary dwellings are interventions on existing garages or sheds. In these cases, a laneway or garden suite can be built on the existing structure’s foundation walls, relieving any requirement for side- and rear-yard setbacks. In other words, if you have an existing structure (a garage or shed), you can most probably build a  suite on that same footprint. 

However, yards that do not have existing structures may still be eligible for the construction of a secondary dwelling. If you are looking to build a new laneway or garden suite in your backyard, your area of intervention must fit within the boundaries defined by the by-laws. Roughly speaking, this means a 7.5m setback from your primary residence, and a 1.5m setback from the property lines on the three other sides. If you forego a second storey, you may gain an additional 2.5m toward the primary residence. Similarly, some of the other setbacks may not apply or may vary in magnitude in certain cases. 

Angular planes also apply to these interventions. The smaller your yard, the more angular planes constrain the volume of construction. For this reason, many laneway and garden suites have one or more sloped sides bounding their second storey.  With an exception provided to the elevation facing the primary residence, a dormer window may protrude from the second storey into this plane. 

Another critical factor limiting the footprint of new constructions is the placement and size of exisitng trees. Tree protection by-laws require a certain buffer zone around bigger trees. If you have a big tree in your backyard, you may not be able to build within a few meters of it. 

These are a few of the many by-law restrictions that can inform what you can and cannot build. With all the nuance embedded in the legal language of by-laws, it can be confusing to delve into them just to see what you can potentially build in your backyard. This is why we illustrated the by-laws for laneway and garden suites. We want to provide clarity. We also offer a consultation service that provides you with different options tailored to you and your specific conditions, allowing you to better understand and vizualize what is possible. 

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