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Permit or No Permit?
So you finally decided to build a deck at the back of your house to host this summer’s family gathering. And while you’re at it, you figure it’s time to add a utility shed to your back yard to store that shiny, new lawnmower. Before starting on your projects, you ask yourself “Do I need a permit for these?”
On smaller projects, the requirement for a building permit may not be obvious. Regardless of whether or not a permit is required, there may be municipal bylaw requirements to be complied with. Municipal bylaws may differ from one city to another and from one province to another. For the sake of this article, we are referencing the Ontario Building Code.

OBC Division C – Part 1 Administrative Provisions, Subsection 1.3.1., spells out the requirement (Section 8 of the Building Code Act) and exemptions from the requirement for Building Permits.
Section 8 of the Act says that “No person shall construct or demolish a building or cause a building to be constructed or demolished unless a permit has been issued therefore by the chief building official.” In the context of the Act, “building” means (a) a structure occupying an area greater than 10 square metres consisting of a wall, roof and floor or any of them or a structural system serving the function thereof including all plumbing, works, fixtures and service systems appurtenant thereto, (b) a structure occupying an area of 10 square metres or less that contains plumbing, (c) plumbing not located in a structure, (c.1) a sewage system; or (d) structures designated in the building code.

So, according to the Ontario Building Code, a utility shed, without plumbing, occupying an area of 10 square metres or less, would not require a building permit. This doesn’t mean one should advise anyone to go ahead and build it however they like! In all likelihood, there are zoning or other bylaws restricting such structures to certain locations and materials, or not permitting them at all. Always check with the authorities having jurisdiction before building, even when a project is so small a building permit appears to not be required.

The following lists are amalgamations of various chief building officials across a variety of larger municipalities in Ontario. Please note that these lists are not comprehensive and are always subject to change.

You need a building permit to:
-construct a new building or accessory structure greater than 10 square metres in area
-renovate, repair or add to a building
-make any structural alterations to a building
-demolish or remove all or a portion of a building
-change the use of a building or part of a building
-install, change or remove partitions and load-bearing walls
-make new openings for, or change the size of, doors and windows
-build a garage, porch or balcony
-build a heated or unheated sunroom
-build a deck more than 10 metres square in area or more than 2 feet (0.61 metres) above adjacent grade
-excavate a basement to increase headroom
-construct a foundation
-underpin an existing foundation
-install a basement walkout entrance
-construct a chimney serving a solid fuel fired appliance
-install or create a Second Suite
-install or modify heating, plumbing, air conditioning systems or fireplaces
-install or reconstruct a chimney, wood burning stove or fireplace
-do structural or mechanical fire-damage repair
-install, replace or repair a private sewage system

You may not need a building permit to:
-build a utility shed less than 10 square metres in area, subject to bylaw restrictions
-replace existing, same-size doors and windows, subject to distance from property lines
-install siding on small residential buildings, subject to distance from property lines
-re-clad exterior walls with noncombustible material, excluding brick or stone veneer and subject to distance from property lines
-build a roofless deck under two feet (0.61 metres) above adjacent grade that is not attached to a building, subject to By-Law restrictions
-install a skylight in a Part 9 building, provided not more than one rafter, joist or similar structural member (excluding a truss) is cut or removed and multiple skylights are not less than 2 m apart
-reshingle a roof, provided there is no structural work
-do minor chimney repairs such as the installation of a chimney cap, chimney line or repointing
-install eavestroughs, provided that drainage is contained on your property
-replace or increase insulation, gypsum board or plaster
-damp-proof basements
-paint or decorate
-install kitchen or bathroom cupboards without new plumbing
-erect a fence (except for swimming pools – outside pools require permits)
-do electrical work (the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), however, must inspect electrical installations)

While the requirements are established in the OBC, municipalities may vary in their interpretation of the requirements. The determination of the requirement for a building permit is always ultimately the responsibility of the chief building official. Unless the specific situation is very clear-cut and supported by recent experience in the same jurisdiction, it is always best to contact the chief building official in your local municipality. And remember, policies and bylaws are constantly changing.

-Canadian Home Inspection Services-