Defining outdoor views from bedrooms

Toronto City Council approves review of design guidelines for consistency with building code
Thursday, September 11, 2014
By Michelle Ervin

A Toronto city councillor wants to know whether the building code requirement to provide outdoor views from bedrooms has been all but pushed out the window in some developments.

Coun. Mike Layton moved a successful motion at Toronto City Council’s August meeting to have the city’s chief planner, along with the chief building official, review relevant design guidelines for their consistency with the objective of Article of the Ontario Building Code. As described in the motion, Article is intended “to provide a view to the outdoors from bedrooms.”

The city’s building division has policies that can be used to exempt bedrooms that meet certain criteria from having windows.

“They call it ‘shared light’,” Layton said. “It’s a pretty common thing that they do. It’s just requiring a certain amount of the area be transparent … you can either have a view to the outdoors or light can travel from the outdoors into the interior of the unit.”

The councillor’s concern is that the quality of this compulsory view is being tested in long and narrow units. He said that developers may be meeting the spirit, but not the principle, of the building code requirement with features such as transparent doors.

“We want to make sure we’re building stuff that people are going to want to live in and have a good quality of life in,” Layton said. “This is why we make sure there’s green space in proximity to residential areas. This is why we ensure certain venting requirements. This is why we have certain height requirements.”

He added that city councillors don’t usually get a chance to review the internal layout of units during the planning phase, in which the number of units and floor plate, which will potentially dictate long and narrow units, are established. He said he thought the opportunity to intervene earlier in the process to ensure floor plates can meet building code requirements would result in better products. He would also like to see clearer guidelines set out to ensure city staff are consistently and correctly evaluating building permit applications for building code compliance.

“There’s grey area in it, and what I’m trying to do is get a more solid line,” Layton said. “There’s grey area in that the building code says one thing, but then it’s a matter of interpretation.”

However, Gary Switzer, chair of the Building Industry and Land Development Association’s Toronto chapter, described the motion as “redundant” and “somewhat confused.”

“…proposed buildings already have to comply with all provisions the Ontario Building Code, or building permits do not get issued,” Switzer said in an emailed statement. “BILD members and Toronto Building ensures that the buildings where we live, work and play are safe and in compliance with the OBC.”

Toronto’s chief planner and chief building official are expected to report back to the city’s government and growth management committee on the findings of their review in the first half of 2015.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.