The City of Toronto has been experiencing a shift of rapid development, and the scarcity of property resources accessible for further growth have led developers to be creative with readily available structures such as heritage properties. The Ontario Heritage Act governs the provincial and municipal identification and protection of properties with what are considered as “heritage attributes”. These “attributes” are described in Section 1 of the OHA as characteristics of certain properties that contribute to the “cultural heritage value or interest” of the municipality. The general guidelines for designation can be found under s.29 of the OHA, and more detail-specific guidelines can be found in the Ontario Regulation 9/06 titled “Criteria for Determining Cultural Heritage Value or Interest”. If you’ve recently moved to Toronto, make sure you have a list of local contractors such as absolutedp.com in case of emergencies.
Heritage Preservation Services (HPS) is the authority that protects heritage designated properties and guides the Toronto Preservation Board and City Council on matters relating to the OHA. The HPS typically manages heritage designation applications, the review of proposals regarding the development of heritage sites, maintenance of designated properties, and providing the policies, as well as administrative, financial and educational services, regarding the conservation of the City’s historic resources. Designations can be made for individual properties (Part IV, OHA) as well as larger areas also known as Heritage Conservation Districts. These districts are areas of municipal historic or cultural significance, and all structures within their boundaries are subject to relative municipal by-laws (Part V, OHA). A heritage property designated under part IV of the OHA may “be included in an area designated as a heritage conservation district”, and conversely, where “a property that is included in an area designated as a heritage conservation district may be subsequently designated under Part IV (OHA, s.41(2))”.
Since the Ontario government strengthened the OHA in 2005, many developers are using existing heritage sites for new developments. Some examples of existing full conversion loft projects in Toronto include the Button Factory Lofts, Imperial Lofts, and Tip Top Lofts. For example, the Button Factory Lofts conversion preserved and utilized original elements from the historic structure such as the wooden beams, brick, and 24 foot ceilings. In general, the majority of heritage structure redevelopments require developers to maintain and keep the exterior façade, regardless of what is being built in connection to or within the structure itself. In Toronto, the Bisha Hotel and Residences provides an example of how the original façade was protected during the redevelopment process. A different method of utilizing heritage structures for redevelopment is by combining them with modern structures. A notable example is the Fashion House Condo building as it is connected to the historic Toronto Silver Plating factory which was built in 1882. The historic portion of this development is expected to be restored and integrated into a residential complex for street-level retail and restaurant amenities.
Complete redevelopment of a heritage designated site is prohibited unless the consent of the HPS has been obtained, and this may apply regardless if the property is formally designated or under review. As for Heritage Conservation Districts previously mentioned, the Toronto Municipal Code (TMC) clarifies the application process in s.103-21 and provides guidance to “any person wishing to erect, demolish, or remove a building or structure located in a heritage conservation district, or to alter the external portions of such a building or structure”. Heritage Permits for designated property are discussed in s.103-23 of the TMC which explains the format of an application required in order to gain consideration by the Chief Planner and Executive Director of the City Planning Division. The Toronto (City of) Act states in s.2(1) that “City council may refuse an application made under subsection 34 (1) of the Ontario Heritage Act to demolish or remove a building or structure on a designated property and may prohibit any work being done to demolish or remove the building or structure”. It should be noted that with regard to retrofitted historical projects, the government-backed Tarion Home Warranty Plan does not warrant retrofitting and therefore a Purchaser in this situation would only be eligible for the Developer’s warranty. Purchasers should also be aware of s.35(1) of the OHA which states that in a change in ownership of a designated property, a purchaser is required to “give notice of the change to the clerk of the municipality within 30 days of becoming the owner”.
If a property is suspected to have potential heritage value but has not yet been designated, a purchaser should have their agent/ lawyer check the listing status of the property. A property with heritage designation typically carries a notice on title registered by the HPS; however some properties are placed under consideration for designation in order to allow the HPS time to review potential development and building applications. Regardless, the listing real estate agent bears the onus to disclose the potential heritage designation of a property to a possible buyer pursuant to s.21 of the REBBA 2002 Code of Ethics. The Code states that “a broker or salesperson who has a client in respect of the acquisition or disposition of a particular interest in real estate shall take reasonable steps to determine the material facts relating to the acquisition or disposition and, at the earliest practicable opportunity, shall disclose the material facts to the client”. There exist simple methods to search for information on Toronto structures with possible or potential heritage designations such as through the municipality at http://app.toronto.ca/HeritagePreservation, or via the Ontario Heritage Act Register which allows public research of all heritage properties designated under the OHA.
There are a variety of issues and considerations relevant to purchasing a Toronto heritage designated property and buyers should always consult with their lawyer to gain clarity on any existing or potential restrictions to their rights that would be associated with the property of interest. Regardless of the formalities and possible challenges involved, potential buyers of heritage designated properties should bear in mind that these implications normally only affect the exterior of a designated structure (unless the interior is unusually significant or rare). There are many positive aspects to purchasing a designated heritage property (or one under heritage consideration) such as rare classic architectural elements such as antique staircases and high ceilings that new developments often lack. Living in and maintaining a heritage property also helps to preserve Toronto’s legacy of structural history and culture in the community. While heritage properties carry a fond reminder of Toronto’s historic past, they also serve great purpose of historical significance and everlasting aesthetic as an inspiration to the City’s developmental future.