Do I Need a Building Permit for That?

Spencer Putnam
Posted June 10, 2021 Category: Businesses, Individuals/Families

A building permit is needed to construct buildings in Ontario. [1]  People are sometimes surprised that this requirement doesn’t just apply to new home builds, but also to some renovations, open-air structures, and even septic systems. This post touches on some of the lesser-known situations where a building permit may be required.


  1. Renovations and Additions

In the Building Code Act, “construct” means to erect, install, extend, materially alter or repair a building. A permit is therefore required for additions and significant renovations.

Where an addition is not physically attached to a building, in some cases a permit may still be required if it functions as part of a building – in one case an outdoor gazebo kitchen was considered to be annexed to a nearby restaurant and therefore subject to the Building Code. [2] And even renovations to downsize a building can still require a building permit if the alterations are material.

  1. Docks

Large docks can require a building permit, because a “building” includes structures over ten square metres with a floor, even if they have no walls or roof. [3]

  1. Small structures with plumbing

A “building” includes any structure with plumbing, i.e. sewer drainage or water supply. Structures with these systems require permits even if the structures are smaller than ten square metres.

  1. Installing a Tiny Home

A building permit is required to install a fabricated building, so a permit is required for tiny homes even if they were assembled or fabricated off-site.

  1. Large or Permanent Tents

Generally, a permit is only required for a tent (or a group of tents) larger than sixty square metres or less than 3 metres from another building. [4] However, “tent” means a temporary and portable shelter. [5] Courts and tribunals have found that permanent and unmovable fabric structures are not considered “tents” and require a building permit. [6]

  1. Septic Systems

A “sewage system” is also considered a building. A sewage system includes systems like chemical or incinerating toilets, greywater systems, cesspools, leaching beds, and sewage holding tanks. A building permit is needed to “construct” any of these systems – this includes installing, extending or materially altering them.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the cases where a permit may be needed. You can contact your local Chief Building Official or our Municipal Team for Building Code or Building Code Act inquiries.


[1] The Building Code Act, section 8(1). There is no single definition of “building” in the Act – a building includes: structures over ten square metres with a roof, floor or walls; buildings under ten square metres with plumbing; sewage systems; and other structures designated in the Building Code, Division A, Part 1, Section 1.3.1.1.
[2] 2364899 Ontario Ltd. v. Bracebridge (Town), 2015 ONSC 6553.
[3] R. v. Black, [2002] O.J. No. 3049.
[4] Division C, s. 1.3.1.1 of the Building Code.
[5] Demers v. Township of Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards, 2017 ONSC 4211 (“Demers”).
[6] Demers; Building Code Commission Ruling No. 05-01-1015.

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Spencer Putnam
Posted June 10, 2021 Category: Businesses, Individuals/Families

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