Spring, Jan Harder

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Spring, Jan Harder

Finally, we are seeing signs of spring all around us. As we lose the heavy coats and footwear, our thoughts go to opening our windows and lightening our homes too. Whether it is a good spring clean or a change in décor, we also begin to expand our living space to the outdoors. As we clean the winter debris from our front and back yards, it is easy to get excited about making improvements to our outdoor landscape. From new plants and flowers for our gardens to installing a pool, additions to these spaces can be costly but gratifying. 

Before you invest time and money on enhancements, it is a good idea to check with city by-laws what is permissible. 

A quick read of a particular by-law or a call to 311 may end up saving you thousands of dollars. I will give a quick rundown of the most commonly asked questions about outdoor enhancements.

Installing a pool

When purchasing or installing a pool, the vendors of pools will give you most of the information you need. Most importantly, the Pool Enclosure By-law requires every owner of a privately owned outdoor pool to erect and maintain an enclosure around their pool to make the pool inaccessible to small children. If you wish to install a pool and already have an existing fence around your yard, you still have to apply for a permit to ensure that the enclosure meets the requirements. Furthermore, all detached self-supported decks facilitating access to a pool that are greater than 10 square meters require a separate building permit. As well, the owner or pool contractor must arrange for a city building inspector to visit. If you are unsure if your pool dimensions require a permit, or a visit, call 311 and you will get all the information needed.

Installing a Gazebo/Shed

If a gazebo or shed is less than 10 square metres, a building permit is not required. 

However, some large box stores sell structures that are bigger than that dimension so caveat emptor. Although a city inspector is unlikely to visit your home to measure a structure, if a complaint is made by a neighbour, you may be required to take it down if deemed too close to a neighbouring property.

Fire Pits

Like the gazebos, these are readily found at large box stores and it is easy to believe that they are legal to have in the city. Open fires need a permit obtained from the Fire Chief. However, urban and most suburban areas do not permit wood or wood products to be burned in an outdoor chiminea. If someone calls to complain, you will be visited by the fire department. Gas fire pits or chiminea are permitted.

Extension of Driveway

Many homes do not have big enough driveways to accommodate more than 1 or 2 cars. With on-street parking limited to 3 hours between 7 am and 7pm (on weekends the time is increased to 6 hours during those times)  and more people working from home, this can cause much frustration. You may see that your neighbour has expanded their driveway and wish to do the same. Before hiring a contractor, you must check with the city.  

 You do not require a building permit to establish a new driveway or widen your driveway; however, zoning regulations and/or site plan control may impose restrictions on the width and location of your driveway. You can obtain this information from a Development Information Officer for your area. You may also wish to review the deed of transfer of your property (title documents provided by your solicitor following the purchase of your home) as the deed may include restrictions that will also apply, particularly if your home is part of a cooperative development, a condominium development or a multi-residential project. Expanded driveways may not take away on-street parking and in general, for example, you cannot park your vehicle in the front yard of your property or front of the front walls of the building. You can park your vehicle in a garage attached to your property, and in the driveway leading to the garage or in the side yard abutting your property.  

Front-yard Additions

Although adding landscaping such as rocks and patio stones may be attractive in the front yard, you must be aware of the right-of-way. Right-of-way refers to the City-owned portion of a piece of land. It is very often wider than the road and sidewalks that may abut your property and can extend to a considerable extent onto your property. The City maintains a right-of-way wider than the width of the road in the event that a road widening becomes necessary at some point in the future. Notwithstanding this, a property owner is still responsible for maintaining the City-owned portion of their land, with respect to matters such as grass cutting and snow clearance. The exact extent of the City’s right-of-way can be determined through a Plan of Survey and the City’s GeoOttawa program can provide a rough guide as to the exact extent of the right-of-way. The same stones that can be lovely in the summer season, can become dangerous in the winter season with snow removal equipment. A homeowner can be held responsible if it is determined that an item placed on the right-of-way has damaged or injured city property or employee.

The right-of-way is also where utility companies have their infrastructure and by Federal law, they can access it anytime. If they do have to dig up that area, they will fix it as best as they can but not many homeowners have been left unhappy with the “fix.”

Not all new additions or changes to your home require a permit. However, it is always best practice to visit Ottawa.ca or call 311 and make sure what can or cannot be done.