Before you start knocking down walls, there are some things you should know to make sure your home makeover doesn’t run afoul of the law.

The most important thing homeowners can do is contact the city to find out what the required process is for their specific proposal, says Algimantas Jasinevicius, a plan review manager in the city’s Etobicoke office.

“You have to look at each address on its own merits,” he says. “You could have something like a simple deck, and you have to get a permit for it. But it has to be in compliance with both zoning and building code, (as well as) any other applicable law.”

But, warns Jasinevicius, there are no hard-and-fast rules. For one, different zoning bylaws exist across the city’s former municipalities. Under these bylaws, “that deck may be considered as just landscaping, or it may be considered as a structure, subject to all sorts of rules,” says Jasinevicius. Within a zone, a property could also have a site-specific bylaw that overrides the general provisions.

A harmonized zoning bylaw for the amalgamated city is anticipated at the end of the year. The hope is that it will eventually be posted on the City of Toronto’s website so that homeowners will be able to find out their particular zone and the bylaws that apply to their property, says Jasinevicius.

Until then, where should homeowners begin? “The first thing you should do is contact the city and find out what the zoning is for your property,” he says. “They will tell you you’re zone-whatever, and they would give you some general information in regards to the required setbacks, height restrictions, landscaping requirements, et cetera.”

If your proposal is found to comply with the bylaw, you can move on to the next step in getting a permit — ensuring your project complies with the Ontario Building Code. The code sets out minimum provisions regarding building safety, such as fire protection.

Although many designers or contractors will get permits on behalf of their clients, Gus Michaels from the city’s licensing department says it is ultimately up to the homeowner to make sure they are in compliance with all building requirements.

“There’s no harm in making a phone call,” Michaels says.

On the web

• For more on building permits, visit www.toronto.ca/building/brochures.htm.