What can I do with my property?

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You might be wondering what you are permitted to do with your own property in the Municipality of Clarington. If you are, the municipality provides a very handy guide here. That guide often points to these by-laws. Those by-laws are put together in response to this official plan, which is guided by three principles: “This Plan has been prepared in recognition of three key principles which provide direction for the policies of this Plan: sustainable development, healthy communities and growth management.” (Ch. 3, p. 1)

It would not be fair to expect residents to have to hire lawyers, PhDs, or consultants and experts just to understand what the by-laws are saying. If residents had to hire professionals, who charge significant hourly rates, it would violate the spirit of equality before the law. Those either wealthy enough to afford experts, or who are themselves experts, could take advantage of all of the privileges and rights associated with private property ownership. Those who cannot, or are not, would have a much more difficult time accessing the privileges and rights of property ownership. And whatever else that would be, it would not be fair.

Clearly, to avoid this, by-laws and regulations should either be written in as clear and plain a manner as possible, providing an allowance for the requirement of precision, or the municipality should make their experts available at a reasonable price (those experts are on the clock during the day anyways, so guiding a property owner through the by-laws should probably just be part of the job anyways).

Are by-laws and regulations in the municipality easy enough to understand? Can a property owner in Clarington be reasonably expected to understand and comply with the by-laws?

There are some fairly clear requirements. For example, if you want to put a rain gutter on a structure on your property, here is the by-law regulating that:

“Notwithstanding the yard and setback provisions of this By-law to the contrary, every part of any yard to be provided in all zones shall be open and unobstructed by any structure from the ground to the sky, except for the following:

i) Sills, belt courses, cornices, chimney breasts, bay windows, cantilevered floor areas, pilasters or parapets may project into any yard to a distance of not more than 0.75 metres;
ii) Eaves or gutters, for other than an accessory building or structure, may project into any required yard a distance of not more than 0.75 metres;
iii) Eaves or gutters for an accessory building or structure may project into any required yard a distance of not more than 0.3 metres; [etc.]”

That seems simple enough.

But suppose you want to erect a flagpole in your residential yard to wave the Maple Leaf on, say, Canada Day. That’s not a problem, probably. All you need to do is figure out what this by-law (3.1, j, vi) is saying:

“Fences, freestanding walls, flag poles, clothes poles, diving boards, antennae, light standards, and similar accessory structures and appurtenances, and hedges, trees, and shrubs are permitted, but in the case of a residential interior lot line situated in any residential zone, no structure, hedge or obstruction that is more than 0.75 metres in height is permitted within 3 metres of any street line where such structure, hedge or obstruction will impede vision between a height of 0.75 metres and 2.5 metres above the centreline grade of an access from any improved public street to any lot.”

Not impeding vision sounds sensible. I’m not sure what “0.75 metres and 2.5 metres above the centreline grade of an access from any improved public street to any lot” means, but that would probably just require a quick trip to the dictionary (or a phone call to the by-law folks at the municipality).

By-law 3.6 (“Established building line”) is clearly saying something important:

“Notwithstanding the yard and setback provisions of this By-law to the contrary, where a permitted use is to be erected on a lot and where there is an established building line extending on both sides of the lot, such permitted use may be erected closer to the street line or the centreline of the street, as the case may be, than required by this By-law such that the yard or setback is equal to the average setback of adjacent buildings on the same side of the street, provided further that such building is not erected closer to the street line or the centreline of the street, as the case may be, than the established building line.”

Whatever that important thing is, I haven’t a clue. If one of my students submitted the above to me, I would send it back to them demanding clarification and simplicity.

You might think I picked some of the more difficult bits of the by-laws. If you think that, I invite you to read through the document yourself.

Why are the by-laws so complicated? Why is it such a hassle for property owners to do anything on their own property? How can anyone be expected to follow, let alone understand, the legal demands of the by-laws?

Often, people tell me that philosophers are obtuse, verbose, and unnecessarily complicated. They haven’t read the zoning laws.

(Posted by Peter Jaworski)

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