Review - "Family appeals again to save reno."

This family is facing trouble. Not only is their house up for partial demolition due to a zoning violation, but their rising legal costs are now $300,000 in the attempt to fight city hall, over an $80,000 renovation.

Some of my clients contact me thinking they can negotiate the zoning bylaw or the building code. I have been able to help them with a building inspector ticket when there is a legitimate zoning interpretation issue, but not an outright violation of the by-laws, as represented in this Toronto Star article.

Building anything without a permit when required is very risky. The ontario building code - OBC -  empowers the municipality to tear down your offending structure, and then lien your property with the cost. This is, of course, after long due process. Ignorance of the law is not a defense, as Mr. Tseng has found out.

Some owners feel if they simply replace what is built there already, then it must be legal, as this poor family did. This is a common mistake. Zoning changes frequently, and your building project is taken to the most recent standard. If your house can no longer be built that deep on the lot, and you have done so, then it must be demolished.

If Mr. Tseng had only been able to contact the city before building their addition, then they could have saved him a million dollars in the end, and all the stress and health risk to a fragile older couple.

If retained, I could have laid out their full property as an "as built" drawing, which they could use for later improvements. I would have to measure accurately their existing floors, and produce a separate zoning drawing dimensioning the size and location of all outside walls. I would then draw the proposed design, labeling all rooms and units for zoning review, called Zoning Certificate Review (ZC). The review is free, only 25% of the permit fee paid up front. 

Once passed, the zoning compliance is approved for the design, defending against future changes to the bylaws. I would ususally work with a code consultant on the latest zoning and OBC regulations for your property, to save you money and time. The city would review your intended renovation for compliance, with confidence that all is in order.

Although in some cases a complete rebuild of an addition is illegal, if they had retained a few of the original walls, then it may have counted as a renovation, not an addition.

The neighbor's also need some consideration. If you are altering a party wall between properties, then a "party wall permit" is required, even if you are just altering your side.  Some party walls are structurally dependent and require engineering review to be altered. The fire rating of the party wall underpins the fire insurance of both property owners. The renovation of that party wall can violate both of your insurance policies if not permitted correctly. 

Call an architect when renovating your property, and save yourself the time and trouble of a fight with city hall. © ERICKSONG ARCHITECTS INC. 2018