Cars piling up on Brampton lawns and driveways forces city to act
Illegal basement suites have long been the bane of many Brampton residents, but a direct spillover of such units is now being addressed by city council with a move to restrict sprawling driveways and front lawns functioning as parking lots throughout the city.
“As residents of Brampton, we all want to live in neighbourhoods that feel attractive and welcoming. Front yards completely covered by driveway are not only unwelcoming but they’re also bad for the environment – they leave less room for plants and trees and allow more pollution to run off into our local waterways," said Mayor Patrick Brown in a statement Monday. "These new regulations help us accommodate residents’ parking needs while working to keep Brampton a Green City."
However, the new rules may ignore a crucial issue at the heart of why many homeowners decide to expand their driveways. Brampton citizens often point to driveways choked by cars as evidence of secondary suites within single-family homes, most commonly of the unregistered, illegal variety.
The formula is simple: a basement apartment means more people living in a single-family home than the house was designed for. In car-dependent Brampton, that often means more vehicles than the driveway was designed for, which leads to driveway widenings.
As things stand, there is no provision in city bylaws that would trigger an automatic inspection if a permit is sought to renovate a driveway, signaling more adult residents living at a single address.
“When a permit is issued to widen a driveway, an inspector from Public Works will inspect the work to ensure it has been completed in accordance with the permit that was issued. Driveway permit applications will be reviewed for compliance with the zoning bylaw, the driveway widening bylaw and any other applicable bylaw,” explained city spokesperson Alexander Vesia.
Secondary units, or basement apartments, have been an issue in Brampton for some time.
The type of housing unit means several generations of the same family, or unrelated tenants, occupy the house, but there is only one property tax bill.
As property taxes are the only kind the city and region can levy, this means people living in illegal suites aren’t paying directly into the system but still enjoy services like garbage collection, schools and parks that are calculated on a one-family-per-home basis. The prevalence of unregistered apartments also makes planning for infrastructure and services much more difficult as accurate estimates of residents in a neighbourhood are hard to calculate.
Wards 3 and 4 Councillor Jeff Bowman has been the most outspoken elected official on the secondary suite issue. After a resident died in March in a basement suite fire, he sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford’s office in April asking for additional powers for bylaw enforcement to go in and inspect suspected suites without a warrant. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark finally delivered a response more than two months later Bowman called “dumb” for failing to address his question.
As to whether the driveway issue could have become a gateway for inspections, Bowman told The Pointer: “I gotta tell ya, I hadn’t considered it. Certainly hadn’t been considered by council. It’s always something I can ask staff about.
“What they’re looking at is simply issuing a license now for the enlargement of a driveway so that they’re sure it’s done properly — they’re sure it’s not too big, ensures proper drainage, and things like that. There won’t be any automatic checking to see if it’s because they got 17 people living in their house or something like that.”
Bowman isn’t sure whether the city could legally create a bylaw whereby inspection of a house for secondary suites is automatically triggered when a permit is requested. Such a law, he said, would likely be “challenged if we did do something like that.”
Councillor Jeff Bowman
To ensure proper drainage, the city requires that homes have at least two square metres of permeable area (grass, garden, flowerbeds, etc.) to allow rainwater to be absorbed and prevent flooding. There are also limits on driveway size. For a lot less than 8.23 metres in width, for example, the maximum allowable driveway width is 4.9 metres.
The maximum driveway widths rise incrementally with the width of the lot, to an absolute maximum of 9.14 metres if the lot is more than 18.3 metres wide.
“For a residence with a second unit, the zoning bylaw requires that three parking spaces be provided on the property, with minimum requirements for size. The creation of a second unit has no impact on the maximum allowable width for a driveway. A driveway may be widened to accommodate extra parking spaces, as long as the total width of the driveway does not exceed the maximum width permitted by the zoning bylaw. There has been no change to the maximum permitted driveway width on a residential lot — it continues to be based on the width of the lot,” Vesia told The Pointer.
An example of an extended driveway in Brampton.
Vesia said people adding secondary suites to their houses are required to comply with regulations through the registration and building permit process, not as part of a driveway widening review. “Where a second unit is legally created and registered with the City, the property must comply with the zoning bylaw (including minimum required parking and maximum permitted driveway width), the Building Code, the Fire Code, the Electrical Safety Code and the Property Standards bylaw.”
Home inspections will always be an issue of human rights. People have a right to privacy and for that reason are allowed to refuse entry to municipal officers, unless there is a warrant obtained through the courts.
“I gotta tell ya, I hadn’t considered it. Certainly hadn’t been considered by council."
Councillor Jeff Bowman on the potential to use driveway widening applications as a trigger to inspect for illegal secondary units.
The issue remains that Brampton has an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 illegal units, many of which are essentially tinderboxes waiting to be set alight due to shoddy, non-compliant electrical work. An effort to tackle the problem using warrants — which can take months to obtain — would inevitably be bogged down by the sheer number of illegal units.
“It always seems to come back to that. The privacy issue; we can’t enter a home without a warrant,” Bowman said.
Reflecting the competing issues of privacy and safety, Bowman says he questions if consideration shouldn’t be given to the fact that the law “is being broken if there is an illegal second unit. Where do the boundaries get set there, towards that person’s right to privacy to protect the fact that he is breaking the law? … Secondly, for the neighbours: At what point does [the rights of] the person who has an illegal second unit or is operating a rooming house … trump the rights of the law-abiding neighbours who have to put up with everything that goes on with these illegal second units?”
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