Toronto Laneway Housing Update: Draft Design Criteria

Late last week, the City Planning staff held a community meeting for the Changing Lanes Initiative to share the current set of draft guidelines and by-law provisions to guide the form, scale and location of laneway suites here in Toronto.

Despite cold, rainy weather, and being the eve of the long weekend, over 200 people showed up at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre to participate in the discussion.

If you haven't read my previous articles on this topic, Laneway suites are an entirely new housing typology the city is considering implementing as an "As-of-right" option for homeowners with lane access.

Laneway suites are defined as: self contained dwelling units situated on the same lot as a detached house, semi-detached or townhouse, generally located in the rear yard abutting a laneway. They are subordinate in scale and completely detached from the main house on the lot which fronts the street. They have outdoor access via both the street and the lane.

As Toronto's population expands and both ownership and rental options become increasingly expensive, our city is desperate for further densification and affordable housing options. Laneway suites offer the ability for our city to densify in a way that doesn’t have a high-rise on every corner.  Laneway suites maintain a low-rise profile while more greatly maximizing our existing lots. This also means that we can increase the livability of existing and established neighbourhoods that are quickly become unaffordable to the average person.

The existing laneways across the city are untapped potential for both increased housing and much needed public space in our increasingly urban city.

We have 295km of Laneways which is almost from Toronto to Kingston - that's a lot of potential.


Laneway suites have been a long time coming, they were first considered in 2006, however it was quickly dismissed as it goes against a fundamental element of our growth plan and bylaws, which state that there cannot be a house behind a house.

10 years later, the housing affordability crisis brought city councillors and groups like Evergreen and Lanescape together to create an analysis and recommendation on how the city can implement this typology into our urban fabric.

After months of evaluation and partnership with groups across the city including residents associations, the fire department and garbage removal services, our City Planners have come forth with the much anticipated set of Draft guidelines and by-laws for Laneway suites in the city.

Laneway Suite Draft Design Criteria

Laneway suites are subordinate to the main house

The impact of laneway suites on the laneway lot and the adjacent property is limited

Flexibility in design is important in achieving objectives 1 and 2.



Laneway Frontage

Proposed minimum 3.0m of frontage be required on a laneway for the construction of any new laneway house


Emergency Access

As public lanes are not serviced the same way as public streets, and most are too narrow for the city's emergency vehicles, proximity to public streets is required for adequate emergency access.

The City is working with Emergency Services and Fire Services Staff to develop several possible emergency access solutions to safely and effectively service laneway suites.

The key item to note is that there must be maximum distance to street of 45m

Side Yard Access

A 1-metre wide access may be provided through the side yard of a private property. Or, through two combined side yards, where appropriate easements have been secured.

The one-metre access will be clear of obstructions for at least one-storey in height


Laneway Access

Where a public street intersects a public laneway, emergency access can be provided via the lane, with a maximum travel distance of 45 metres from the public street to the laneway suite entrance

Street Access

Where a property has a frontage on both a public lane and street, access can be taken from the street.

A Limiting Factor

The Emergency Access  requirements limit the number of lots that might be able to construct a laneway suite. 

On longer laneways and where housing has limited side yard setbacks and/or shallow lots, the opportunity for laneway housing is limited. 

On shorter laneways and where there are wider side yards and deeper lots, laneway housing is more likely to be possible. 

Building Height

Laneway Suites are intended as subordinate to the main house on a lot.

The maximum permitted height of most buildings in Toronto and East York is between 9.0 and 10.0 metres. This allows 3 to 4-storey buildings .

The proposed maximum height for a laneway suite is 6.0 metres. This would allow a 2-storey building.


The Spaces In-Between

Main House / Laneway Suite Separation

Rear yards accommodate green space, recreation space, and an important part of the City’s tree canopy. 

In order to maintain these areas and limit impacts on their function, a separation distance between the laneway suite and the main house are proposed. 

The separation distance increase as the height of the laneway suite increases. 

A 5.0 metre separation distance is required for a 1-storey (4 metres) laneway suite.

The Zoning By-law currently allows for garages to reach a height of 4.0 metres, but only requires a setback of 1.8 metres from the main house. 


A 7.5 metre separation distance is required for a laneway suite at a height above 4.0 metres in height or 2-storeys. 

A maximum 4.0 metre rear yard building face height and a 45° angular plane is projected from that height to a maximum of 6.0 metres.


This approach provides for flexibility in design, acknowledges Toronto’s characteristic rear yard layouts, and limits impacts on adjacent rear yards. 

We are also considering whether these separation distances can be combined to where the main wall of a house protrudes, or where a stepped back laneway suite is proposed, as per the diagrams on the right

Window Percentage

2nd Floor Window Limits

Side yards windows maximum 30% translucent windows with setback. 

The side facing the main house can have a maximum of 50% of the façade as windows. 

On the side facing the lane, a maximum of 75% can include windows. 

Setback from the Lane

Most of the City’s laneways are sub-standard, meaning they are not the required 5 metres wide, in the case of residential laneways, or 6 metres wide, in the case of commercial laneways. 

In order to ensure a laneway house is not constructed on land required for an adequately wide lane, a minimum building setback, of 2.5 or 3.0 metres from the centre line of the lane is required for all new laneway suites. 

In areas where there is a permitted density of 1.0 times the area of the lot, these setbacks will be greater to allow even more laneway greening. 


This setback creates opportunities for landscaping, greening, lighting, and other small improvements and enhancements within laneways. 

We are working with the City’s Public Realm Staff to explore how these changes can be realized. 

Rear Yard Landscaped Open Space

In order to maintain adequate soft landscaped area for recreation, stormwater retention, and neighbourhood character, a minimum of 30% of the lot area is required as landscaped open space. 

We’re also considering requiring that, where a tree does not exist in the rear yard, one is planted as a requirement of the construction of a laneway suite. 

The draft guidelines for laneway suites will also support green roofs. 


Laneway Suite Depth

The maximum depth of a laneway suite is propose to be 8.0 metres. 

This will ensure that overly large laneway housing is generally not constructed on the City’s deeper lots, where all other setbacks and separation distances are more easily met. 

The typical maximum depth for single and semi detached dwelling is 17.0 metres, and for row houses, it is 14.0 metres. A maximum depth of 8.0 metres, along with the other criteria ensures that the laneway suite remains subordinate in scale to the main house. 

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Amenity Space

In addition to the rear yard, which can be either shared or partitioned, the City is supportive of limited balcony space on the 2nd floor of a laneway suite provided the space faces only into the laneway itself. 


Bike and Car Parking Spaces

The ground floor of a laneway suite presents an opportunity for living space and/or a parking space. 

Zero (0) vehicle parking is required for a Laneway Suite. 

Two (2) bike parking spaces are required. 

We intend that, if a parking space is current provided within a garage that proposed to be converted to or replaced with a laneway suite, no replacement parking will be required*. 

Application Process

As of Right Zoning

Laneway Suites that comply with the Guidelines and implementing Zoning By-law will require a building permit.

Minor Variances

Laneway suites may require minor variances in some cases. The City intends to give additional consideration to suites which need variances to: 

  • meets the accessible building standards, 
  • includes sustainable building technologies, including solar panels or a green roof, 
  • maintain existing mature trees 
  • accommodate a laneway suite within an existing accessory building. 

Laneways Suite Fees

The City is reviewing its Development Charge By-laws and parks levies related to Laneway Suites. 

A Zoning and Official application would not be required for laneway suites Laneway Suites. 

Building Permit fees and, if necessary, Minor Variance Application fees, would continue to be required. 

Next Steps

City Staff will report to Toronto and East York Community Council on Laneway Suites on the May 2nd 2018 Community Council Meeting