Canadian Contractor

By James Hong   

What Went Hong?: Building permits

Canadian Contractor Permits & Legal editor pick editor's pick

Statistics Canada puts the number of building permits in the country for residential and non-residential buildings at 11,860,569. That ‘s a huge number. In September 2023, the total value of building permits in Canada was 11.9 billion dollars.

A building permit is necessary when a building is constructed, renovated, demolished or a change in the building’s use is requested. Building code enforcement is regulated in the municipal building departments in your jurisdiction which oversees the issuance of permits. Permits are reviewed to ensure compliance to regional building codes, to meet health and safety standards, fire protection, accessibility, and resource conservation. The permit reviews are bound by the zoning bylaw of the building location which dictates how land may be used, the location of, what types, usage, lot size, parking, heights, human density usage, and street setback distances. The controlling municipality will have all the permit requirements needed for a specific building.

Generally any new building over ten square meters, any renovations or repairs to a building, any change to the use of a building, excavation or construction of a foundation
or construction of a seasonal building and the installation, alteration, extension or repair of an on-site sewage system requires one or more building permits.

Building permits are controlled and approved entirely at the municipal level where applications are submitted. Drawings and plans are required with applications along with fees and additional permits where required. Permit approval times vary with the Service Agreement turnover being 10 days for a house and 30 days for a building with time frames dependent on permit backlogs. A zoning change, failure to comply with building codes including issues with site plan controls will result in the denial of the application. Application refusal appeals based on building codes are processed by the Building Code Commission and appeals based on zoning bylaws must be appealed to a judge of the Superior Court of Justice.


Once obtained, a building permit requires mandatory inspections when the project is at the stage of construction set out in the Building Code. To prevent delays, work closely with the controlling municipality for all questions, additional permit requirements and zoning bylaws. Administerial requirements include placing the permit in a visible location such as a window or above eye level in a high traffic area of the building as well as keeping copies of the plans onsite and advising the appropriate authority of any changes to the plans which will require additional approval. Keep in mind Heritage buildings require entirely different building permits. Demolitions require both a demolition permit and a building permit unless it is a full building demolition which requires its own set of permits. A change of building use permit is required even if you are not planning any construction, which evaluates whether the building can safely accommodate the building use change.

The fines for building code offences are steep and most would agree that obtaining the proper building permit far outweigh the penalties. A building without a permit, can be fined up to $50,000 for a first offence and up to $100,000 for subsequent offences. For a corporation, a first offence maximum fine of $500,000 and $1,500,000 for subsequent infractions.

Building Permit fees are based on a minimum fee as well as the total valuation of the proposed project. In Ontario the minimum fee for any permit is $47.50. The flat fee 23.50 cover projects with a valuation of 1 dollar to 500 dollars all the way up to valuations over 1,000,000 dollars $5,608.75 for the first $1,000,000.00 plus $3.65 for each additional $1,000.00, or fraction. All additional permits such as plan checks, sewer assessments, electrical, mechanical, grading and development etc. permits have separate fees.  Fees and requirements as well as fines differ from province to province and territories and the municipality of those jurisdictions will guide you through what you need.

The overall purpose for these permits is to maintain compliance with codes that were effectively created for the safety of the workers and eventual occupants and usage of the building; to maintain structural soundness and operational safety for electrical, mechanical, sewage, land use and essential components for the permit buildings. I don’t see any downside to that plan.

Be safe. Be well.

James Hong is an OHS consultant, writer, and journalist. 



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