Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Heritage Conservation District?

A Heritage Conservation District (HCD) is a defined area that includes buildings and other structures – ranging from a row of houses to a neighbourhood or an entire municipality – that has been deemed by local residents to have a special heritage character worth preserving.

The recognition and desire of residents to celebrate and protect the special qualities of these buildings is expressed through the enactment of a municipal by-law (under the Ontario Heritage Act) designating the area as an HCD.

Enactment of the by-law is the product of an extensive and democratic process of community consultation, with input from heritage architects and other experts. The HCD process is frequently initiated by a group of interested local residents who volunteer to subsequently develop a Heritage Conservation District Plan containing design guidelines for the preservation and enhancement of the area’s heritage character.

Once an HCD has been enacted through municipal by-law, a Heritage Permit may be required for proposed alterations, additions or demolitions of building in the HCD. Where a Heritage Permit has been refused by the municipality because the proposal is inconsistent with the design guidelines, there is a right of appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Under the Heritage Conservation District (HCD) designation, can I do what I please with my house?

In most cases, yes.

In general, HCD designation does not:

  • Restrict the use of property
  • Interfere with renovations or alterations to the interior of a house (such as installation of modern conveniences or contemporary designs on the interior)
  • Interfere with renovations, alterations or additions to the exterior of a house that are not visible from the street
  • Prevent renovations or alterations to the front of a house that are in keeping with the heritage character of the HCD
  • Impose onerous obligations or undue expenses to maintain property
  • Restrict the sale of property

No Heritage Permit is required for the following types of projects:

  • Interior renovations or alterations
  • Exterior renovations, alterations or additions not visible from the street
  • Exterior painting of wood, stucco or metal surfaces
  • Repairs of existing exterior features using the original types of materials
  • Installation of eaves troughs or weatherproofing
  • Seasonal installation of removable storm/screen windows and doors
  • Installation of exterior lights.

A Heritage Permit is required for:

  • Any renovations, alterations or additions that are visible from the street and are not listed above.
  • Repairs using a different material than the original or the existing material.
  • Renovations that have an impact on the building’s heritage attributes, or involve demolition.

For more general information, see the Toronto Heritage Preservation Services website at: www.toronto.ca/heritage-preservation/heritage_questions.htm

Requirements under the Ontario Heritage Act are in addition to requirements in municipal building codes or by-laws.

For information on Heritage Permits, see the Permit Process section of this website or refer to the question on Heritage Permits below.

Can I replace doors, windows and roofs with more energy efficient materials?

Yes. Heritage permits are routinely granted for installation of more energy efficient doors and windows as long as replacements are in keeping with the original character of the house and existing doors and windows could not be repaired or upgraded to make them more energy efficient.

Finding replacement windows and doors that are in character has become much easier as upgrading for energy savings has become common. Many suppliers now have lines of energy-efficient replacements that match the character of period homes. (One thing to remember is that the most green and efficient material may be the existing (presumably wood) material.)

It should be noted that in some cases, such as with stained glass transom windows, doors and windows will be heritage attributes that should not be replaced. Instead they can be repaired or restored in ways that make them more energy efficient.

Window and slate repair and restoration are often candidates for the City’s Heritage Grant Program.

Can I paint my house in any colour I choose?

Yes, except where the local guidelines for the preservation and enhancement of the HCD’s special character include requirements that only certain colours are to be used.

A heritage permit is required for painting masonry that has not previously been painted. Paint can cause a considerable amount of damage to brick and is not recommended.

Where the guidelines do not specify certain colours to be used but a homeowner nonetheless wishes to make a historically appropriate colour selection, paint stores have sample books of heritage colours to choose from. Appropriate heritage colours tend to be those found in nature.

Note: These guidelines are contained in the Heritage District Plan and are commonly referred to as the “HCD guidelines”.

Will HCD designation affect my insurance rates?

Insurance premiums should not rise as a result of HCD designation. Designation itself does not place additional requirements on the insurer and should not negatively affect premiums. For instance, there is no requirement that repairs be made with antique material.

A variety of other factors can cause insurance companies to increase premiums for older buildings, such as a higher level of risk due to out-dated wiring that has not been upgraded or old heating systems, etc.

You should consult your insurance broker for details.

I live in a house that is modern in age and design. What does HCD designation mean for me?

The HCD plan is typically more permissive when it comes to the type of renovations and alterations allowed for modern “non-contributing” properties that are not considered to add to the heritage character of the district, as recognized by the Heritage District Plan.

Nonetheless, exterior alternations to non-contributing properties may be deemed to be inappropriate to the HCD and refused as not in keeping with the character of the district.

Normally, the appropriateness of each proposed renovation, alteration or addition to a non-conforming property will be decided on an individual basis by a local district advisory committee, working in co-operation with the city’s Heritage Preservation Services staff.

Who sets the design guidelines for Heritage Conservation Districts?

The City’s Heritage Preservation Services policies offer standardized guidelines and procedures for preserving the heritage character of unique neighbourhoods across the city by declaring them Heritage Conservation Districts. It is intended that local residents themselves determine priorities for their HCDs, with the city administering a consistent process for studying and designating districts to ensure a higher standard of heritage conservation. The city provides their policies on their website: http://www.toronto.ca/heritage-preservation/heritage_districts.htm

How is heritage preservation enforced?

The municipal by-law designating the HCD requires that owners comply with the HCD guidelines, assisted by a heritage advisory committee in the district.

District plans are law and there are potential penalties, including fines, for willingly contravening the Ontario Heritage Act.

However, rather than relying on prosecution and penalties, it has been the practice to provide encouragement and information to homeowners and to assist them in educating themselves to voluntarily comply with heritage by-laws.

A Heritage Conservation District Advisory Committee, comprised of interested local residents who volunteer their time, has been established as a key partner in ensuring the success of the HCD. The Committee acts as the local community representative of the District Plan, assists property owners seeking information on heritage matters. The Committee also provides advice to Heritage Preservation Services staff on heritage permit applications in the HCD that may not be in keeping with the heritage guidelines or that may have a significant impact on a property’s heritage attributes. The Committee may be called upon to work with applicants and local residents to find mutually acceptable solutions where City Preservation Services has determined that a Heritage Permit should not be issued without changes to the application to make it consistent with the HCD guidelines.

What is a Heritage Permit and how is it obtained? Does obtaining a Heritage Permit entail going through another set of bureaucratic hurdles?

A Heritage Permit is required for many types of renovations, alterations or demolitions affecting the street-facing façade of a house in an HCD (see above).

Obtaining permission to build, renovate, alter or demolish in an HCD does not entail additional application costs. However, there may be a slight delay while Preservation Services staff reviews the development application to ensure consistency with the HCD guidelines.

Staff in the City’s Heritage Preservation Services office will review the proposal and if necessary recommend changes to the plan that will bring the proposal in line with the District Plan. (If necessary, the application is also circulated to the Advisory Committee at this point). Once the applicant has satisfied the heritage concerns, he or she can apply for a building permit.

The authority to issue Heritage Permits where an application is consistent with the District Plan has been delegated by Toronto City Council to Heritage Preservation Services. Permits for applications that are not consistent with the District Plan (HCD design guidelines) can only be issued by Toronto City Council.

Are heritage grants available to assist in maintaining my home as a heritage property?

The Toronto Heritage Grant Program encourages the conservation of properties designated under Part IV or V of the Ontario Heritage Act in the City of Toronto through matching grant funding of up to 50% of the estimated cost of eligible heritage conservation work. Details about eligibility requirements, the application process and public workshops are available on the City’s website at: .www.toronto.ca/heritage-preservation/grants/index

How will HCD designation affect the resale value of my house?

HCD designation does not, in itself, change the value of a property. If there is any impact at all, heritage designation is likely to help a home maintain or increase its value because most property owners take pride in the character of their neighbourhood. Upkeep of the community also makes an HCD becomes more attractive to home buyers who like the stability that heritage designation brings to the built form of the community.

HCD designation is intended to bring certainty to all homeowners that any future street-facing additions or alterations to buildings will not be out of character with the neighbourhood or negatively impact surrounding properties. It brings stability to the neighbourhood beyond zoning by-laws which, for example simply limit the size of a new building relative to the size of the property.

RECENT STUDIES:

A recent study, commissioned by Toronto Heritage Services, closely studies “the effect of heritage conservation district designation on residential house prices in Toronto, Ontario”*.

Click here, to access the complete study (in PDF).

Or see Conclusive Summary below:

SUMMARY:

The study focuses on three out of nineteen residential HCDs within the City of Toronto.

This study indicates that HCD housing values are higher than housing values in comparable adjacent districts in Toronto. In addition, HCD houses increased in value by a larger percentage than adjacent houses between 2005 and 2010. The key findings of this paper are important to residents of Heritage Conservation Districts, proposed HCD’s and those considering moving into a Heritage Conservation District. This is because it allays any fears that they have with regard to property values. This study demonstrates that purchasing a house in a HCD will likely be more profitable than purchasing in non-heritage areas over time. In fact, the key findings from this study are useful to the City of Toronto as a whole, indicating that as HCDs continue to proliferate and evolve, they will increase both the economic and aesthetic value of these neighbourhoods across the city. The report indicates that many people object to HCD designation because they feel that development cannot occur and that HCDs will stagnate and lose value due to restrictive guidelines that limit development opportunities.

However, because this study shows that houses are worth more in HCDs, it is likely that conforming to these guidelines will actually attract new development, people, businesses and visitors to the district and that they are more appealing to live in. The results of this study demonstrate good reasons and incentives for government and communities to support heritage districts, through grants, tax rebates and incentives for developers. The importance of designation to protect these areas will contribute to future generations and ensure that people can enjoy them in the future.

Source: Murray X. White, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University, April, 2010, Toronto, Ontario

In addition, a 1998 study* of 3,000 designated properties in 24 Ontario communities found that:

  • HCD designation did not have a negative effect on property values
  • The rate of sale of designated properties was as good or better than the general market
  • the value of heritage properties tended to resist downturns in the general market.

Source: Robert Shipley, “Heritage Designation and Property Values: is there an effect?” International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2000, pp. 83-100.