Bob Aaron email@example.com
With houses built so close together, permits to access neighbours’ space are too onerous.
With so many Toronto homes built within a few feet — or even inches — of each other, it can be a problem when an owner needs access to their neighbour’s land for renovation, repair or construction to their own property.
Prior to 2008, the City of Toronto had a right-of-access bylaw which, at a half page, was short and to the point. It allowed access to a neighbouring property for repairs, alterations and improvements as long as the property was left in the same condition.
That simple bylaw was repealed in 2008 and replaced with a 12-page tome that turned the simple concept of temporary entry onto a neighbour’s property into an enormously complex set of regulations involving expensive entry permits, fees, security deposits, compulsory liability insurance, compensation for damage, inspections and penalties.
At the time, I wrote in this column that “the complexity and cost of the new regimen are staggering. Talk about overkill.”
Turns out, I was right. This past June, the Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) Committee received a staff recommendation to repeal the bylaw. The committee did not accept the recommendation and forwarded the report to city council for information.
Between 2012 and 2016, only 105 permit applications were received and just 60 permits issued. In each of 2015 and 2016, only three permits per year were issued.
If the permit process is to be repealed, some homeowners would be cast into limbo regarding the repair of their houses.
One Star reader emailed me to say she had applied for a permit in August 2016 and it still has not been issued.
The city report outlines a homeowner’s options when it is necessary to access a neighbour’s property to make repairs or alterations to their own property. These are:
- Consent through mutual agreement;
- The use of a pre-existing registered easement agreement;
- A court order;
- The existing right-of-entry bylaw.
The city report notes that the permit process almost always involves a very acrimonious relationship between two property owners and requires a great deal of staff effort and attention.
In the years 2015-16, city legal services spent 114 hours on two court cases involving the permit process.
The staff report to the MLS Committee noted that other municipalities such as Kitchener, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga do not have a right-of-entry permit process. It failed to mention, however, that they also do not have the Toronto problem of so many older houses being built inches apart from each other.
Staff suggested two alternatives: repeal the bylaw, or amend it to completely remove the permit requirement. In the end, staff recommended repealing the bylaw.
Its rationale is that with only six permits issued in the past two years, the majority of affected property owners are successfully negotiating their access issues.
The city, it seems, is anxious to avoid being involved in “a complex, resource-intensive, and time-consuming undertaking. The majority of residents,” the report says, “would be unaffected by the repeal of the bylaw.”
In my view, the process could be vastly simplified. And the same city that historically allowed houses to be built inches apart cannot now wash its hands of the access problem it created.
So why not keep the bylaw but delete the permit requirement?