12. Building regulation
The Building Code Act
The Building Code Act, 1992 (BCA) lays out the legislative framework governing the construction, renovation, demolition and change of use of buildings in Ontario. The Building Code is a regulation made under the Building Code Act. It sets out technical and administrative requirements.
The Building Code Act defines the purposes of the Building Code to include standards for public health and safety, fire protection, structural sufficiency, energy conservation, water conservation, environmental integrity and barrier-free accessibility of buildings.
Under the Building Code Act, municipalities are responsible for the enforcement of the Act and the Building Code within their jurisdiction (except in certain locations such as where boards of health or conservation authorities are responsible for enforcing the sewage system requirements). Municipal councils must appoint a chief building official and as many building inspectors as are necessary for the proper enforcement of the Act and the Building Code. The chief building official and inspectors must meet qualification requirements, which include successful completion of Building Code legal and technical examinations in their area of practice.
Building Code enforcement
Chief building officials and inspectors are to perform their duties in accordance with a code of conduct established by the municipality in compliance with the Building Code Act.
The role of a chief building official includes establishing operational policies for the enforcement of the Building Code Act and Building Code, and coordinating and overseeing their enforcement.
The chief building official is also responsible for issuing permits for the construction, renovation, change of use or demolition of buildings that conform to the requirements of the Building Code Act and the Building Code. These requirements include compliance with the list of applicable law in the Building Code, making the Building Code a powerful enforcement tool.
Chief building officials and inspectors are also responsible for exercising powers and performing other duties assigned to them under the Building Code Act and the Building Code, including reviewing plans, inspecting construction and issuing orders.
It is important to note that this enforcement role is assigned specifically to the chief building official and inspectors by the Building Code Act, which is a provincial law. Council does not have a role under the Building Code Act or the Building Code in decision-making on building permit applications or the issuance of orders. Chief building officials and inspectors are independent of municipal council when exercising these powers and duties. The Building Code Act was amended in December 2017 to specifically state that chief building officials and inspectors are to exercise their powers and perform their duties in an independent manner. However, it is appropriate for municipal councillors or staff to direct concerns regarding the safety of buildings to building officials, so that they can take action as they see fit.
Code of conduct
The Building Code Act requires that municipalities and other principal authorities establish and enforce a code of conduct for chief building officials and building inspectors. The purposes of a code of conduct include:
- promoting appropriate standards of behaviour and enforcement actions
- preventing practices that may constitute an abuse of power
- promoting appropriate standards of honesty and integrity by a chief building official or building inspector in the exercise of a power or the performance of a duty under the Building Code Act or Building Code
A code of conduct must provide for its enforcement, include policies or guidelines to be used when responding to allegations that the code of conduct has been breached, and include disciplinary actions that may be taken if the code of conduct is breached. A code of conduct must also be brought to the attention of the public.
The Building Code is written in an objective-based format. This means that the objectives behind the requirements in the code are clearly identified. This allows for a better understanding of code requirements, and creates a framework for the evaluation of innovative building materials, systems and designs. Specifically, the objective-based format allows designers and builders to submit as part of their permit applications “alternative solutions” to the technical requirements of the Building Code. An alternative solution is a proposal regarding building materials, systems and designs that differs from, yet still provides the same level of performance as, the technical requirements found in the Building Code. As part of their role in reviewing building permit applications, building officials are also responsible for reviewing and approving alternative solutions.
The Building Code includes service level standards that municipalities must meet, including timeframes for making a decision on a building permit application. These timeframes include issuing a permit or refusing to issue a permit, giving full reasons, and timeframes for construction inspections following the receipt of notice from the building permit holder. For example, the Building Code sets a 10-day timeframe for the approval or refusal of a building permit application for a house.
Chief building officials and inspectors also have the power to issue orders when buildings are found to be unsafe and in emergency situations. Chief building officials may also take actions to remedy the unsafe conditions and immediate dangers.
Building permit fees
The Building Code Act and the Building Code also address fees charged by municipalities for building permit applications and related activity. These services should generally be self-supporting. Permit application fees can be set at an amount that covers the cost to operate the building department (although the municipality could always choose to set fees at less than full cost recovery of service delivery). In this way, delivery of building department services should generally not affect the municipal budget. However, the fees are not permitted to exceed the anticipated reasonable costs of the municipality to enforce the Building Code Act.
Building permit fees can also include a component designated for a reserve fund. The reserve fund is intended to ensure that, even if building activity in a municipality slows down, there are sufficient funds to maintain building department services for a time without affecting the municipality’s finances or staffing Money in the reserve fund can only be used for costs of delivering services related to the administration and enforcement of the Building Code Act. The reserve fund is, therefore, not accessible for council to use to fund other municipal activities. Building permit fees and reserve fund policies are often subject to regular review by council, and can be modified to reflect local conditions.
Municipalities are also permitted under the Building Code Act to enter into agreements to share the costs of delivery of building services, and successful examples exist. Alternatively, private sector firms known as a “Registered Code Agency” can also be contracted to deliver many building services on behalf of a municipality or municipalities. You can find Registered Code Agencies on the ministry’s public registry (the Qualification and Registration Tracking System or QuARTS).
Updates to the Building Code
The Building Code is subject to regular review and update. The current edition, the 2012 Building Code, was updated and came into effect in April 2022.
Building Code amendments are also made to reflect government priorities, innovations in construction and design, changes in other jurisdictions, emerging issues and coroner’s jury recommendations.
For more information on the Building Code Act and the Building Code call the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Building and Development Branch at
Property standards by-laws
The Building Code Act gives municipalities the power to adopt a municipal property standards by-law. The by-law may establish standards for the maintenance and occupancy of properties within all or part of the municipality, and require properties that do not conform to the standards to conform.
Prior to making a property standards by-law, council must include policies relating to property conditions in the municipal official plan or adopt, by by-law approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a policy statement containing provisions relating to property conditions. A municipal Property Standards Committee must be established to hear appeals from property owners and occupants who have received orders to comply with the by-law.
The Building Code Act also states that municipal property standards officers may inspect properties and issue orders to enforce property standards.
A municipality may also establish a system of administrative penalties to help the municipality in promoting compliance with its property standards by-law. The municipality may require a person, subject to such conditions as the municipality considers appropriate, to pay an administrative penalty if the municipality is satisfied that the person has failed to comply with the property standards by-law passed under the Building Code Act (sections 15.4.1 and 15.4.2).
It is up to the municipality to decide to impose administrative penalties in relation to its property standards by-law and to decide the amount of an administrative penalty that a person would be required to pay. However, the amount of an administrative penalty cannot be punitive in nature and cannot exceed the amount reasonably required to promote compliance with a by-law.
The property standards by-law does not necessarily have to be administered by the chief building official, despite the fact that it is the Building Code Act which provides municipalities with the ability to have a property standards by-law. Council has the discretion to decide how best to deliver this function. Some assign this role to the buildings department; other municipalities establish an independent property standards department.
Housing innovation guides
As part of More Homes, More Choice: Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan, Ontario issued a total of seven housing innovation guides to help people understand how to take advantage of creative solutions and access housing that meets their needs.
The guides can be divided into two categories:
- guides that help navigate financing options
- guides that help navigate the building process
Guides under the first category such as Life lease housing, Co-owning a home and Shared equity homeownership provide practical information to help people explore different options for housing and homeownership.
To date, there have been four housing innovation guides that have been released to help navigate the building process:
- Add a second unit
- Build or buy a tiny home
- Building a laneway house (new in 2021)
- Building a modular house (new in 2021)
The guides are intended to make it easier for homeowners, property owners and landlords to navigate complex design and building processes. These innovative approaches can help create more housing supply, including rental units, to make housing more affordable for Ontarians.
Thanks to the input from building officials and others experienced with these housing formats, these guides provide useful information, tips and best practices to help ensure compliance with Building Code requirements and key municipal rules and requirements.
Helpful considerations: section 12
- Consider sharing building department services with your neighbouring municipalities.
- Familiarize yourself with the code of conduct approved by council that outlines appropriate standards of behaviour and practices governing the activities of the chief building officials and inspectors.
- Remember that the work of the building department within your municipality is to help ensure the health and safety of the public. This department operates independently and without interference from council or councillors when exercising the powers and duties assigned to them under the Building Code Act.
- Building Permit revenue can only be used for costs of delivering services related to the administration and enforcement of the Building Code Act – it is not accessible for council to use to fund other municipal activities.