The idea of tiny home living is not new. Over the last few years, tiny homes have been getting a lot of attention as a housing choice for people to live in or rent out.

Adding or building a tiny home to your property can sometimes be a challenge. Unlike the regular-sized houses we have been building for decades, tiny homes are an emerging trend. As such, getting successfully through approvals and meeting requirements to build a tiny home can be difficult.

Below are three things you should check before you go any further with your project:

  1. Is your property suitable?
    Some lots will not work for a tiny home. There are several reasons why this may be the case:
    1. Local zoning by-laws may not permit adding a tiny home without further municipal approval (see section on Municipal zoning and other by-laws).
    2. The lot may be too small to meet setbacks or other local requirements without further municipal approval (see section on Municipal zoning and other by-laws).
    3. The lot may not have adequate access for emergency services such as firefighting and Emergency Medical Services (see section on Emergency access).
  2. If you’re buying a factory-built tiny home, does it meet the necessary Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards?
    The Building Code requires all buildings to be inspected during construction. In the case of factory-built buildings, quality control inspections and monitoring occur during the assembly of buildings and building components. A tiny home built off-site without CSA certification will likely not have had the appropriate inspections. This may become an issue as you apply for a building permit to locate your tiny home on your property (see section on Factory-built tiny homes).

  1. Will your tiny home have warranty protection under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan administered by Tarion?
    In Ontario, all new home builders must be registered with Tarion. Tarion maintains an Ontario Builder Directory of all new home builders. New home buyers are encouraged to check the Ontario Builder Directory to ensure their builder is registered with Tarion. Tarion’s website outlines the types of homes covered and not covered by their warranties and protections.

To check these three things, you are strongly advised to talk with officials at your local municipality and seek assistance from experts in this area before you go further with your project.

Municipal zoning and other by-laws

Before building your tiny home, it is important to get information about your municipality’s zoning by-laws. Zoning by-laws set out the kind of buildings that can be built, the sizes they can be and where they can be located on your property. As a result, they may control whether a tiny home is permitted in your case.

Ask your local planning department about:

  • zoning rules that apply to your property
  • whether these rules let you build a tiny home without further municipal permissions
  • services to your property such as water, sewage and electricity
  • any other useful information you need to know to build your tiny home

Even though tiny homes are small, they must still meet the local rules for building in your area, including zoning by-laws. Complying with your municipality’s by-laws is important so that you can build a tiny home if you choose to proceed.

Depending on where your tiny home is located (rural, suburban or urban areas), municipal zoning by-laws and standards will vary.

Zoning requirements that could impact building your tiny home without further municipal permissions may include:

  • permitted land uses
  • minimum lot sizes
  • minimum size for residential buildings
  • minimum or maximum lot coverage by built structures
  • lot frontage and setback requirements from lot lines and the public street
  • massing and height requirements
  • parking requirements (including tandem parking)

Other requirements that could impact building your tiny home may include:

  • streetscape and architectural design
  • location of exits and entrances
  • appropriate municipal or private servicing (water, sewage, electricity, etc.)
  • whether new residential development can occur in existing settlement areas
  • restrictions on waterfront development
  • restrictions on lot severance
  • access for emergency services

You need to learn about how these things apply specifically to your property. Knowing these rules can make building or buying a tiny home go quicker and smoother.

If you can’t meet some of the zoning by-laws

Planning laws in Ontario give property owners options if their project does not meet all the applicable zoning requirements without further municipal permissions.

Two of the most common ways you can seek to change the zoning requirements on your property are through an application for a “zoning by-law amendment” (also known as a rezoning) or for a “minor variance.”

You will generally need to apply to your municipality to change the specific rules that apply to your property.

Below are typical examples of circumstances where a rezoning or a minor variance may be needed so that you can proceed with your tiny home project. In cases like these, you should speak to planning staff in your municipality. You may also wish to seek the help of a professional planner.

1. Zoning by-law amendment/rezoning

A rezoning is needed when you want to use or develop your property in a way that is not allowed by the existing zoning by-law. It will be needed when you are proposing to change some of the basic rules about how a property is used, such as changing from a single dwelling unit to multiple dwelling units.

A rezoning is also often needed when the change you want is a fairly major change to the zoning by-law, such as adding another use on your property or significantly altering the proposed size, height and location of a building from what the rules currently allow.

A rezoning example: Your property is currently zoned to permit only one detached dwelling unit. By constructing a tiny home, you would be adding another dwelling unit as a separate building on your property. If this is the case, you will generally need to get a rezoning.

2. Minor variance

A minor variance is needed when you are proposing to build something that does not conform exactly to the zoning requirements. It is used for changes that are minor in nature.

Minor variance example: Your zoning allows you to build a tiny home on your property, except that the setback from your rear property line cannot quite be met. In this case, a minor variance may be appropriate (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Minor variance

Minor variance

Image description: Diagram demonstrating how adding a tiny home on a property, in the example shown, would require a minor variance regarding local zoning by-law requirements for setbacks on a lot. The diagram shows two drawings from above of the same house on a property before and after a tiny home is added. In the before sketch the house is shown as complying with the front, side and rear yard setbacks. In the after sketch a tiny home is added in the upper left-hand side of the property. The location of the tiny home shows that the left-side and rear yard setbacks are not met, thereby requiring a minor variance.

Apply for rezoning or minor variance

Building and development projects that trigger the need for a rezoning or minor variance can sometimes have an effect on your neighbours and other surrounding properties. As part of both the rezoning and minor variance processes, your neighbours will receive a notice from your municipality about your proposed change and they will be able to comment on it. They can also file an appeal from any decisions made about your application.

Being able to get a rezoning or a minor variance could be the key thing that allows you to build or locate your tiny home.

Before you apply for a rezoning or a minor variance, you should talk to your municipal planning staff to determine whether the city staff will support it and for advice and information. If you choose to apply, you must complete an application and pay a fee (if applicable). You may want to get your own professional planning advice in preparing an application.

Did you know?

The Planning Act was changed to make building additional residential units on your property easier. Subsection 16(3) of the Planning Act requires municipalities to adopt official plan policies that authorize the use of additional residential units (ARUs) in both the primary residential unit and in another building on the same property (for example, above garages or in coach houses).

Municipalities may also permit the use of tiny homes on the same property as other residential units. Your municipality’s official plan and zoning by-laws may not have been updated yet to reflect these recent Planning Act changes. Talk to your local planning department to find out the status of additional residential unit updates and the potential for adding a tiny homes.

To remove certain zoning barriers to the creation of ARUs, Ontario Regulation 299/19 made under the Planning Act establishes the following requirements and standards across Ontario:

  • an ARU, where permitted in a zoning by-law, may be occupied by any person regardless of whether the primary residential unit is occupied by the owner of the property
  • an ARU, where permitted in a zoning by-law, would be permitted without regard to the date of construction of the primary or ancillary building
  • one parking space for each ARU, which may be provided through tandem parking as defined
  • where a municipal zoning by-law requires no parking spaces for the primary residential unit, no parking spaces would be required for the ARUs.
  • where a municipal zoning by-law is passed that sets a parking standard lower than a standard of one parking space for each ARU, the municipal zoning by-law parking standard would prevail