Tiny Home Locations in Ontario
Read on to find out how to navigate the red tape; learn where you can and cannot build or park your tiny home.
Tiny home locations in Ontario can be as hard to find as the needle in the haystack. Finding a spot to build or park your tiny home in Ontario can be a challenging and frustrating exercise. Read on to find out how to navigate the red tape, learn where you can and cannot build or park your tiny home.
Before looking at specific locations you will need to consider a few basic facts.
Building codes covering design, floor area, building material specifications, construction methods, window areas are a provincial responsibility.
Where you can build a tiny home or park a tiny home on wheels is a county, municipal or township matter. Whether you can live in it permanently, seasonally or temporarily as part of your employment is also covered by local government by-laws.
The Ontario Building Code and Tiny Homes
Your first step is to make sure your proposed tiny home design conforms to the Ontario Building Code (OBC). In the hierarchy of approvals, you will need to be able to live in your tiny home, you must comply with provincial regulations otherwise you will not get a building permit from your county, municipality or township.
All requirements of the OBC apply to houses of any size. The most relevant part of the code that is applicable to tiny homes is the minimum floor area requirement which is 26.75 m2 or 290 sq.ft. plus bathroom space sufficient to contain a toilet, shower and basin.
Here’s how that figure is calculated using the guidelines from section 188.8.131.52 of the OBC:
- Combined Living, dining, kitchen area – not less than 17.95 m2 (for 1 or 2 occupants)
- Main Bedroom – 8.80 m2 (with built-in cupboard/closet)
- Bathroom – enough space to provide access to all fittings.
This gives a minimum of 26.75m2 or 288 sq.ft. before adding space for a bathroom.
That destroys a commonly held belief that tiny or small homes under 1000 sq.ft. are illegal in Ontario. They are not illegal but that does not mean they can be built everywhere.
The sketch above shows the comparison between a 290 and 1000 sq.ft. floor area.
In the case of a tiny home on wheels (THOW) you will need to conform to provincial requirements for recreational vehicles (RV).
For a THOW you will need to comply with the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) regulation number Z240MH which is more stringent than number Z240RV for trailers or self-driven recreational vehicles designed for temporary non-seasonal living.
Where to Find Tiny Home Locations
This is where the search must follow one of two paths. Your search for a site for your tiny home will be different for permanent tiny homes on foundations than for THOWs.
First, we will deal with THOWs as the choices are simple.
The easiest and most common is to park your THOW in a recognized trailer or RV park. However, some park owners do not allow THOWs, only RVs. Some parks are not licensed for permanent year-round occupation, only seasonal use. You would need to check with parks in the area where you want to live. The downside to living in parks is that there is always a rental and utility cost.
Parking your THOW on a friend or family member’s property might work for short periods but would need approval from the municipality or township in the form of a temporary permit.
In the township where I live, applications for temporary permits to live in THOWs on farms would only be granted if the occupants were employed by the farming business. Applications would be treated in the same manner as those for RVs, modular homes or conventional houses on foundations as secondary residences. This is how farmers get approval for bunkhouses for migrant workers on vegetable farms or stockmen, milkers on dairy farms or animal carers on other livestock farms.
THOWs Classified as Secondary Suites
Some municipalities and townships are more receptive to applications for building permits to construct a second home on a property. These are also called garden suites or granny suites.
Some will consider classifying a THOW as a secondary suite providing that it complies with the OBC and CSA Z240 MH. Skirting to hide the wheels and close the space under the trailer and/or a deck might be required.
You would need to consult the relevant municipality or township to find out the policy in the area you may be considering.
Locations For Permanent Tiny Home Construction
Given that the construction of houses larger than 290 sq.ft. is legal in Ontario, where to build yours becomes a matter of zoning which is a municipal, county or township responsibility.
In Oxford County where I live, the planning office sets the basic framework then leaves it to municipalities and townships to issue permits for building, rezoning and change-of-use applications.
The township where I live had a provision that the minimum floor area for an unattached, low-density residential unit was 1001 sq.ft. A building permit for anything smaller required justification for a waiver. This by-law is in the process of being amended so that the OBC minimum of 290 sq.ft. will apply. That is good news because if you can find a residential lot, you can now build a tiny home provided that it complies with the OBC.
It is not clear yet whether applications for THOWs to be approved as permanent dwellings – skirted if necessary – on individual lots would be considered.
Other townships may follow this change in minimum size as it appears that township planners are aware of the housing affordability problem and the rising popularity of tiny homes in Canada.
One city that is making it easier for tiny home construction by providing more tiny home locations is the city of Kingston which has adopted an improved secondary residence policy and has a programme to offer homeowners grants of up to $25,000 towards the cost of building a second home. (The grant is only for those homeowners willing to rent the second property to a low-income renter). You can read more about their secondary suite programme here.
New Tiny Home Locations
New residential land in Ontario is hard to find, time-consuming to get approved and costly to develop. It makes sound economic sense that developers strive to maximize their return on investment by building as large as possible houses on small as possible lots.
The higher the number of houses per acre, the less fixed development cost per house (i.e. roads and utilities.) The higher the selling price of the house, the less effect of those fixed costs on the selling price. That model works against conventional property developers designing housing developments exclusively for tiny homes.
If you add the bias against tiny homes and their occupants which increases in direct proportion to the size and value of neighbouring “regular” houses, it makes it difficult to have a mix of tiny and larger homes in the same new development.
Possibilities For New Tiny Home Locations
What if the best way to increase the number of tiny home locations is by using a new model, a departure from conventional thinking?
One that comes to mind uses a cooperative development structure. This has been done overseas with two or more individuals or families collaborating by buying land and building one house at a time. Other successful projects include converting disused commercial buildings into apartments.
With a cooperative model, the profit margin that a regular property developer builds into the price of a house is not needed. After purchasing a piece of land houses can be built one at a time. As the first owner moves in and starts paying off the loan for his or her house, equity would be created to finance the next house to be built.
There is a TV series on Netflix – How to Live Mortgage Free – that shows many unconventional examples of tiny homes.
From my investigations and reports in the media, it seems that local governments are becoming more aware of the housing affordability crisis and the advantages of tiny homes.
As planning offices change or abandon bylaws, it will be easier to find tiny home locations.
The same easing of restrictions will create new opportunities for unconventional financing methods.
If your dream is to live in your own tiny home, don’t give up. Do your research and find a way. Ask for an invitation to join our Facebook Group to see other tiny home owners experiences and share your own.