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Municipalities have authority – and human rights obligations

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Licensing rental housing

Under the Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006, municipalities have broad powers to pass bylaws (subject to certain limits) on matters such as health, safety and well-being of the municipality, and to protect persons and property.

Both Acts also give municipalities the specific authority to license, regulate and govern businesses operating within the municipality. This includes the authority to pass licensing bylaws covering the business of renting residential units and operating rooming, lodging or boarding houses/group homes.

With this authority also comes a human rights responsibility. The Code requires that these decisions consider all members of their communities. The Code also requires that such decisions do not have a disproportionate adverse impact on or target people or groups who identify with Code grounds.

At the same time, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is encouraging municipalities to use the tools at their disposal to create more affordable housing. In light of recent affordable housing legislation, licensing bylaws that reduce or restrict affordable housing may not be in line with the provincial vision.

Building Code Act, 1992

The Building Code Act, 1992 (BCA) governs the construction, renovation, demolition and change of use of buildings. The Building Code is a regulation under the BCA and sets out minimum technical and administrative requirements. Principal authorities, which include municipalities, are responsible for enforcing the BCA and Building Code.

Current Building Code requirements for barrier-free design include:

  • specific dimensions and placements for barrier-free entrances, paths of travel and washrooms
  • requiring new tactile signs for people with visual disabilities
  • requiring that a percentage of units in new apartments buildings or hotels include accessible features.

These accessibility requirements are minimum standards that builders may exceed, and they have been progressively enhanced in each successive edition of the Building Code.

The proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard developed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) may lead to further enhancements to the Building Code’s barrier-free design requirements. The goal of the AODA is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in the areas of goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025.

The Human Rights Code comes first
In many cases, the requirements of the Human Rights Code exceed those of the AODA and the Building Code. When this happens, requirements under the Human Rights Code take precedence.

Despite the intention to achieve inclusive buildings, accessibility requirements set out in the Building Code do not always result in equal access for people with disabilities as required by the Human Rights Code. Housing providers should consider their obligations under the Human Rights Code when designing housing. Relying on relevant building codes has been clearly rejected as a defence in claims of discrimination under the Human Rights Code.

Retrofitting buildings to make them accessible can be a very costly process, because the accommodation required may not fit easily within the original design. The best way to avoid these costs is to design up-front for inclusion. By looking at accessibility early when preparing building designs, it is possible to add in accessibility features at the lowest cost, and to prevent significant financial outlays in the future.

Best practice – design inclusively
Design buildings and renovation projects as inclusively as possible, and consider the obligations of the Human Rights Code. Never create new barriers when building new facilities or renovating old ones.

For more information on making buildings accessible, see the Canadian Standards Association’s Barrier-Free Design ( and the Principles of Universal Design (

Did you know?
In the case of Quesnel v. London Educational Health Centre (1995), 28 CHRR D/474 (Ont. Bd. Inq.), a woman who used a wheelchair could not get chiropractic treatment because the building was inaccessible to wheelchairs. The Health Centre argued that it had followed all of the Building Code rules of the time, but the Board of Inquiry (now the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario) found that it had discriminated based on disability. The Board stated that the Human Rights Code took precedence over the Building Code, and ordered the Centre to install a wheelchair ramp.

Maintaining properties
The Building Code Act provides authority for municipalities to pass property standards bylaws covering the maintenance and occupancy of buildings and properties.

Under the BCA, these bylaws cannot set out requirements, standards or prohibitions that distinguish between persons who are related and persons who are unrelated when considering the occupancy or use of a property, including the occupancy or use as a single housekeeping unit. Such bylaws must be about buildings and property, not people.

Best practices – work with the wider community

  • Allow housing for seniors, people with disabilities and other people identified under Code grounds across a municipality, including but not limiting it to locations that are close to amenities such as transit and community services, by including objectives and policies to this end in official plans.
  • Work closely with housing developers, agencies and people who will benefit from such housing when choosing the right planning tools and developing housing strategies.
  • Work with community stakeholders to review policies, bylaws and practices to identify and remove potential barriers to affordable housing (such as discriminatory neighbourhood opposition) for groups who experience discrimination based on Code grounds.

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