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  • (Deck design and permit by Gary Erickson Architect. Ericksong.com | Structural engineering permit by JIT Professional Services Inc. | Deck Construction by TS Builders. TSBuilders.ca | Metal post foundations by Techno Metal Posts, Technometalpost.com)

Get a permit! Do it right!

Enjoying a backyard deck is one of the greatest joys of owning property. Here are 5 tips to help keep your deck legal and safe, using the building permit process.

Tip 1 - Get a building permit

Decks that measure over 2 feet high – from the ground level to the top of the deck – can require a building permit. In Ontario, this means your deck permit drawings will need to be designed and sealed by: a qualified technologist with an insured BCIN number (Building Code Identification Number), or a professional architect, or a professional engineer.

Seems a lot of trouble for a bit of wood floating above the ground, doesn’t it? But if you build your deck without the required permit, the cost and inconvenience of permitting and rebuilding of your now illegal deck, under pressure from the city authorities, can cause you considerably more stress. Also, an Order to Comply (OTC) or “ticket” given by a city inspector for even 1 mistake on your deck can be much more costly than doing it all right the first time. Permit fees will be doubled, and a fine and OTC tickets left for over a year may trigger a city court order action against you, so don’t stall.

Tip 2 - Get the zoning rules down before you lay out your deck

The city will have zoning bylaws dictating the legal width, depth and height of the deck. Some bylaws will allow only a certain depth – measured from your home front wall to the back of the deck. It doesn’t matter what happened next door, by the way. Zoning bylaws can change anytime, at the authority’s discretion. So don’t copy the neighbour’s deck, hoping it complies.

How do you check these bylaws out? You can go to the city permit desk or let a pro handle it. The city building permit desk staff are prepared to help homeowners, if you need some quick advice.

After your deck is designed, and basic design documents are drawn, your designer may recommend a Zoning Certificate or ZC application. What if the Zoning Certificate application uncovers an illegal (not permitted) or nonconforming (not built right) deck, or file error, on the city property record? That is where the Committee of Adjustment (C of A) and your architect can help you.

Tip 3 - Getting a variance from the Committee of Adjustment

Those efforts to be friendly with your neighbours may now help you correct any errors in your property record (such as a nonconforming deck construction and deck design). The C of A application for a house can cost up to $2905.30 for the fee alone. Why? You’re asking your city authority and the neighbour for permission to legalize your construction or design, or correct your property record. It is a relatively complex democratic process, involving a letter to all neighbours within a 60 metre radius – all of them have a say. This is a common hidden cost to homeowners.

Tip 4 - I have an inspector ticket, but I bought my deck this way. Help!

If you have purchased your home from a licensed realtor, they likely have title insurance. Your lawyer can arrange for the cost of permits and construction to be paid by the realtor’s title insurance.

Tip 5 - Hire an experienced and insured deck contractor

Renomark.ca is a source of good renovation contractors. I know your relative is very handy, and has the time this summer, but a deck can be a dangerous thing for you if something goes terribly wrong. Poorly built decks run the risk of structural collapse. Don’t put yourself and your family at risk. Comply!