General Advice

Toronto Building permits—and renovations done without them—can have a major impact on the sale or purchase of a home…

Lately, I’ve had a lot of clients ask me about Toronto building permits. When do you need them? How do you close them? And what are the consequences of buying or selling a home that’s had work done without them? Knowing the answers to these questions can save you some major potential headaches. If you’ll be carrying out a real estate transaction in the near future, here’s what you need to know about Toronto building permits.

What’s a building permit, and when do you need one?

Building permits help ensure that home construction, demolition, and renovations adhere to provincial codes and local zoning bylaws. A permit gives homeowners official permission to carry out a proposed change to their property. Once that change is complete, the permit must be finalized (or “closed”). A closed permit indicates that the renovation was legal and above board.

Of course, the city doesn’t require that you obtain a permit for every home upgrade you perform when selling. To shed some light on the subject, I spoke to local architect Maria Denegri.

“In a bathroom, you don’t need a permit if you’re replacing floor tiles or putting a new toilet in place of an old one,” says Denegri. “But if you want to change your layout and need to move a major fixture, you’ll have to apply for one.” Denegri also notes that when it comes to walls, it depends on structural necessity (an architect or contractor can make this determination). When in doubt, ask a professional.

One last thing to keep in mind. If you’re carrying out a renovation that requires a permit and proceed without one, the city can stop you from moving forward until you get one.

How long does it take to get a Toronto building permit?

You can apply for a Toronto building permit online. Denegri told me that simple renovations are eligible for what’s known as a residential fast track application. In this situation, you can expect the process to take about a month (though sometimes it’s closer to two). For more complex renos, expect a timeframe of about two to three months.

Depending on the type of work you’re doing, inspectors may come in at various stages of your renovation to ensure that everything’s up to code. Finally, before Toronto building permits can be closed, an inspector must walk through and verify that all work has been completed correctly. In most cases, a project’s contractor will be responsible for ensuring that this process is completed—but it’s always good for homeowners to double check that their permit has been closed.

Buyer beware

Building permits could come into play when you decide to perform renovations on a home you’ve purchased. When you go to apply for your permit, you may find that a preexisting one has been left open for your home. Unfortunately, you’ll inherit responsibility for closing it. This means bringing in an inspector to ensure that the work was done correctly—and getting it redone if it wasn’t. Until the old permit is closed, you won’t be able to move forward with your own renovation plans.

Unfortunately, some homeowners perform work on their homes without starting the application process at all. “You’d be surprised what people will do without a permit,” says Denegri.

How buyers can protect themselves

Before you buy a home, it’s a good idea to contact the municipality to ensure that there are no open permits. Your real estate agent can take this step for you. If you have to close a pre-existing permit, get the city to send an inspector over to have past work assessed—a crucial step in the process.

Worried about unpermitted work? The good news is that a thorough home inspector can often uncover work that’s not up to code. That’s why it’s a good idea to request a home inspection as part of your deal when you purchase a house.

Lastly, some title insurers will cover the cost of fixing deficiencies when a home you purchase was renovated without proper permits. You may also be covered if a past owner makes changes that don’t adhere to building code rules. I suggest talking to your legal representative about coverage options.

Seller beware

“If you sell a home without closing existing permits, it could come back to haunt you,” says Denegri. As a real estate agent, I couldn’t agree more.

First off, if you list your home with open permits, you will absolutely have to take care of them before your transaction closes. In some cases, this process will entail undoing some of your previously-finished work so that an inspector can check that every step of the process was completed correctly.

What about unpermitted work? A closed permit signals that a renovation was done correctly. Unfortunately, if you don’t go through this process, there’s a chance that the work you’ve performed won’t be up to code. In a worst case scenario, you could face a lawsuit if your renovations create a major defect that you don’t disclose.

If you’re worried about renovations performed by a previous owner (and whether they were completed with an appropriate permit), talk to your lawyer about your title insurance. Depending on the level of coverage you have, you may be protected if any issues arise.

How sellers can protect themselves

Put simply, you should double check with the city to ensure that there aren’t any open permits for your home before selling. If you’re getting work done before you sell, double check that the contractor closes your permit. Last but certainly not least, be honest and upfront with buyers about past renovations. It’s not just about the consequences you might face if you don’t. It’s about saving the people who purchase your home some major (and unnecessary) frustration.

The bottom line? Real estate transactions are complex, and building permits in Toronto are just one aspect of a sale or purchase to pay close attention to. A knowledgeable and experienced real estate agent will help you ensure that you dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Planning to buy or sell a home? I can help ensure that the process is smooth. Get in touch, and we can set up a time to discuss your needs.

  1. Total agree with your post. One of you client purchase a house in North York and ask us to apply for a deck permit and found out from the city that their newly built house that they purchased only have a foundation inspection done and nothing else. And it become their worst nightmare for them.

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