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May 29, 2012

Buyer beware bylaws

Municipal bylaws may surprise homeowners

TORONTO – May 29, 2012 – Toronto’s ball hockey players can keep yelling, “Car!” as council decided last week to veto a proposed change to the bylaw that prohibits the game and will instead continue to ignore the ban. While some of Ontario’s municipal bylaws may seem silly and are rarely enforced, there are others that can derail property owners’ plans when moving into a new neighbourhood. In order to avoid legal setbacks, costly mistakes and unnecessary stress, Ontario’s Realtors recommend homebuyers look into potential municipal bylaws that could affect future home plans.

Ontarians who plan to renovate their newly purchased home, whether a post-war era bungalow, century-old farmhouse or condo unit, may be in for a surprise as plans get underway. Depending on the municipality, long-standing bylaws may prevent certain types of renovations or other plans, like renting a basement apartment, for the property.

“What are the homebuyer’s plans for their future residence? That’s a question I always ask my clients,” says Ron Abraham, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association. “For instance, someone buying a 50-year old home that’s never been renovated will likely want to update it or demolish and build an entirely new house. There are many bylaws that deal specifically with home renovations and new builds, so homebuyers need to be aware of the ones that may affect their structural plans before starting on a project to avoid problems down the road.”

Zoning bylaws respond to issues common to renovations and new builds and can guide whether any of these, for example, are allowed:

  • a below-grade garage
  • dividing a mutual driveway
  • the number of windows allowed in a house
  • construction of a basement apartment
  • adding a backyard deck.

Homeowners might also be surprised to learn about these rules on books in some municipalities:

  • Tree conservation bylaws: Enforced by many of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, a tree conservation bylaw may prevent a homeowner from removing a tree that infringes on plans for a new home or renovation.
  • Garage sale bylaws: A maximum of two yard sales per year are permitted in most municipalities and may not exceed two consecutive days. Homeowners in violation of these terms are guilty of an offence according to several municipal codes. 

“Navigating the bylaws can be overwhelming and even intimidating for homebuyers,” says Abraham. “Most homeowners may never encounter any issues with their municipalities. However, it’s still good practice to discuss future home plans with your Realtor since they are trained to make the home buying process smooth and simple. Avoiding bylaw infractions is just another item that a Realtor can help with.” 

Property issues pertaining to condo ownership present an entirely unique set of considerations for buyers. Condo owners and renters are expected to abide by the bylaws set out by condominium corporations, which are governed by the Condominium Act, 1998. These rules can dictate what, if any, pets are allowed in the building; proper use of the parking facilities or what items residents are allowed to place on their balconies, such as barbecues.

“Anyone looking to buy a condo should always consider a building’s rules beforehand,” says Abraham. “Knowing what is expected of a building’s residents before investing in a condo can help eliminate surprises and disappointments down the road.”

Many Realtors specialize in certain areas and neighbourhoods and therefore might already be familiar with that municipality’s municipal code. The Ontario Real Estate Association encourages homebuyers to inquire about municipal bylaws with their Realtor, who may be able to shed light on a particular matter or delve deeper into a specific area to learn more. Visit www.howrealtorshelp.ca for more information on working with a Realtor.

About the Ontario Real Estate Association
The Ontario Real Estate Association represents 53,000 brokers and salespeople who are members of the 42 real estate boards throughout the province. OREA serves its REALTOR® members through a wide variety of professional publications, educational programs, advocacy, and other services. 


For more information contact:

Katarina Markovinovic-Praljak

Head of Communications & Media Relations


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