If you are currently running, or plan to run, a daycare out of your home, you must comply with a number of requirements held by the Ministry of Education to ensure that your daycare provides adequate supervision. These requirements, which include obtaining a valid license, are irrelevant if you do not live in a house that is zoned to run a daycare. Knowing whether your property meets such requirements is not based on a personal evaluation of whether you believe your house to be ‘properly conducive’ to run a daycare. Nor does it rely on the fact that other private daycares may be operating in your neighbourhood. It all depends on the law.
What is the law for Starting Your own daycare at home?
Every neighbourhood is divided into municipal zones that encompass a number of by-laws that indicate permitted uses of your land, such as how wide you can build your garage or whether you may run your own business out of your house. This is known as its zoned ‘use’. The latter category is most relevant for those running a daycare. The term ‘use’ relates to whether the relevant by-law permits you to use your house for commercial, mixed residential and commercial or strictly residential purposes. In order to run a daycare from your house, your zoning by-law would have to indicate a mixed use of commercial and residential.
How do I find out if my house is zoned for a daycare?
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to find out your property’s designated use. Every municipality has a planning department that carries the municipal by-laws for each zoned neighbourhood within its region. For instance, if you live in Vaughan, you would proceed to the planning department at Vaughan City Hall. The only information you’ll require is your address – with that you can obtain your zoning by-law designation and a copy of the by-law.
It is important to note that by-laws can be lengthy in size and bogged down with legal jargon. The relevant provision(s) will indicate ‘additional uses’ and list the various types of commercial uses that are permitted. If you do not see a list of ‘additional uses’ under your by-law designation, then the default is strictly residential. If you encounter difficulty, it may be helpful to confirm with the staff whether your house is zoned for mixed commercial and residential use. From a practical stand point, houses that are fully detached are the only properties that may allow for commercial use – so if you are currently residing in a complex, semi-detached or condominium it is likely that your property is not zoned to operate a daycare.
Are there penalties for starting a daycare at home?
If you find yourself in the position where your house is not zoned for commercial activity and you are currently running a daycare, then it is in your best interest to take immediate action. Here’s why: should the Ministry of Education discover that you are running a daycare contrary to your zoning by-law, you may be subject to a fine of up to $2,000 plus an additional $1,500 per day should you continue operating. 
More importantly, previous legislation (Bill 143) to alter the penalties from $2,000 to $250,000 will likely be proposed again now that Parliament has reconvened. This legislation further submits that a daycare found in contravention of the Act, be shut down without the need for a court order.
What Are The Options to start a daycare at home?
Luckily you can take control of the situation by making the right choice for you and your business. Should you be aware that your property is not zoned to operate a business, you may do one of three things: you can make an application for variance of the by-law, re-locate your business to an appropriate property or cease your business altogether.
Assuming your desire is to continue your business, you may apply for variance to the Committee of Adjustment or relocate your business. The former entails a lengthy process and can be very expensive (an application itself can cost you up to $1,000). Should you decide to go down this route – be aware that the probability of successfully varying your zoning by-law is slim.
The most reasonable option is moving. You may think this option is impractical, however the headache of spending a day or two moving your daycare (and home) to a legitimate location will save you from the greater financial and emotional stress that you are sure to encounter running an illegitimate daycare.
It is never desirable to be the bearer of ‘bad news’ – but it can be easier to receive it if you have a better understanding of why the laws have been created in the first place. Most laws are created to reflect community values. The very intention of these zoning laws is to ensure a safe environment for children. Despite the fact that you may be running the most secure daycare in all of the GTA, if you live in a semi-detached house, you unfortunately cannot account for your neighbour’s actions, which can have dangerous consequences. The government is intent on ‘cracking down’ on residential daycares and whether you agree with their reasoning or not, it’s best to decide how you can comply with the law now so that you can focus your energy on building your business for the future.
References and Footnotes
- See section 11(1) Day Nurseries Act, R.S.O. 1990, Reg. 262: must obtain a license for in-house daycare. ↩
- Pursuant to Section 21(1) of the Day Nurseries Act, Every person who, (a) knowingly furnishes false information in any application under this Act or in any statement, report or return required to be furnished under this Act or the regulations; (b) contravenes the provisions of subsection 11 (1); (c) fails to comply with a direction of the Director under section 15; or (d) fails to comply with an order made by a court under section 17, and every director, officer or employee of a corporation who knowingly concurs in such contravention or failure by the corporation is guilty of an offence and on conviction by the court is liable to a fine of not more than $2,000 for each day on which such offence continues or to imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or to both. R.S.O. 1990, c. D.2, s. 21 (1). ↩
- See Child Care Modernization Act, 2014. ↩
- Currently the Day Nurseries Act requires a court order to close daycares doors as well fine owners up to $1,500 for every day they do not comply. ↩
- See Doumani, R. and Patricia Foran, Ontario Planning Legislation & Commentary, LexisNexis Canada Inc. (2009) at 67-76. ↩