As a realtor, it’s not uncommon for me to be asked about secondary units. Most people assume that secondary units are just duplexes and in-law suites, but there are actually several variations, all different from each other. This month, I am going to clear up some of the questions surrounding secondary units, as well as talk about plans that the City of Peterborough has for them.


Let’s talk about the Secondary Units that can be seen in Peterborough …



A legal duplex, is a building with two separate units, that each have their own entrance, and their own metered services; i.e. not sharing the same heating, or electrical. As a realtor, we see lots of variations on this style of secondary unit. Duplexes that existed prior to 1994, are grandfathered and do not have to meet all the requirements of the current code. For example, they can share the same heating system, but have separate panels. These grandfathered units are called Legal Non-Conforming Duplexes. Duplexes that are built new, or that were converted from a single-family home after 1994 are required to meet present code.


Legal Non-Conforming Accessory Apartments

This style of secondary unit isn’t common, but they do exist, and follow the same 1994 grandfather system as the Legal Non-Conforming Duplexes. These could be accessory units that run on the same services as the main dwelling – kind of an Aparment-ception if you will.


In-Law Suites

An in-law suite, to meet city standards, is a unit in a home with a private washroom and living/bedroom space, with one hard restriction – no full-size stove. This restriction is to ward off illegal apartments, since an in-law suite is not supposed to bring in income. Quite literally the idea is that the “in-law” is still to be eating meals with their family, who live in the main area of the house. Fridges, and hot plates, or toaster ovens are fine, but Grandma should be eating dinner with her family. (Bonus for you, if your in-law is stellar in the kitchen!)


setting table in-law suite

Thinking about turning your place into a Duplex?

As you’re likely aware, there are not too many duplex lots in Peterborough outside of the downtown core, which makes sense when you think about rental opportunities – most renters want to be close to amenities. For a legal duplex to be built, or to convert a single-family home to a duplex (or triplex), the zoning be changed to reflect that:

  • R1 = Single-family
  • R2 = Duplex
  • R3 = Triplex

Many factors come into play when considering a build or conversion to a duplex, like additional parking, fire code compliance, and separate services. I often have people assume these changes would be easily granted, but I won’t sugar coat it for you – it is a very complex situation to take on, and doing your due diligence prior is essential. If you are considering this, be sure to check out the City of Peterborough Zoning By-Law here.


Duplex secondary unit


Peterborough’s Push for Secondary Units

For the past few years, the City of Peterborough has been speaking with realtors in the city about their aim to make secondary units more feasible for homeowners across the city, and not just within the central core. Many factors are still to be determined, but it sounds like progress is being made slowly, but surely. Under these new bylaws, a homeowner can either convert a space within their home, convert a garage space on their property or build a new dwelling on their property – if their property size allows. It goes without saying that these properties that can been granted this, must also conform to the present zoning, i.e. be a residential space to begin with.

Of course, there are other stipulations that come into play; these secondary units cannot exceed two bedrooms, must be a minimum of 300 square feet, be less than 45% of the total square footage of the main house, and less than 75% of an entire floor. Oh, and they must have at least one additional parking space. Any separate building can also only be one storey, and all units must meet building, fire, and electrical code. (Renters beware of any build that doesn’t meet these codes – your safety is a priority over a cheap monthly rental fee).

The City of Peterborough does have plans to start a registry to track these units for the safety of it’s residents. In case of a fire, or any accidents or incidents, it’s important for emergency services to know that there are people living in the garage. This registry will allow the city to inspect the units, and ensure that they are up to code and impose any fines for violations. It’s important to note that with this plan the city is not granting homeowners the ability to sever their lot. So detached garages, or newly built structures in their yards cannot be sold – these secondary units will remain as a part of the original home.


Secondary Unit rental income


While there seems to be a lot of hoops to jump through, I personally am very excited about Peterborough’s new outlook on secondary units. These units promote affordable housing, and allows infill into areas of the city which are already developed, instead of more and more subdivisions, and I think this will help to revitalize certain areas of town. Peterborough has always been considered a “school city”, and has always attracted property investors, but for many, the thought of carrying a whole other property is more than they want to assume.

When this bylaw comes into effect, home-owners will be allowed to legally rent out an area of their principal residence. The vacancy rate in the city is currently 1%, which tells us that there is a need for rental housing. I know that I have helped a few clients already, who have started this process of building or converting structures on their properties, and this makes me very optimistic for them, and excited for what these new outcomes could be.

I do think there is is still work to be done on the City’s end to finalize this bylaw, but I do see the incredible opportunities this is bringing to the residents of Peterborough. If this interests you, keep an eye out for public meetings, and online surveys that the City has been doing to gather the public’s opinion on secondary units within the city.


Now is your chance to be heard and support something that could be great for Peterborough.

Let me know in the comments, if you have any additional questions about secondary units.


Signing off from the Electric City,

Linz Hunt


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