Maintenance and Traffic Management

Streets Use By-law Questions and Answers

Working or Encroaching in Public Streets (Chapter 743 of the Municipal Code). 

What is the “Streets By-law”?

We use the term “streets by-law” as a convenient reference to describe legislation that amends Chapter 743, Streets and Sidewalks, Use of, of the City of Toronto Municipal Code. The amendments “harmonize” pre-amalgamation statutes from the former municipalities (Borough of East York, Cities of Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, Toronto, York and the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto) that regulated activities occurring in public road allowance.

City of Toronto Council adopted the new by-law at its meeting of March 5, 2012.

What activities does the new by-law cover?

The by-law provides a uniform set of regulations dealing with such diverse activities as:

  • Fouling, encumbering and obstructing streets;
  • excavating and working in streets (“street work”);
  • temporary street occupations (excluding street events and filming);
  • commercial/industrial boulevard parking;
  • banners in streets;
  • canopies and awnings;
  • temporary decorative lighting and street decorations;
  • memorials in streets;
  • encroachments in streets;
  • boulevard maintenance responsibilities;
  • approving driveways and walkways;
  • enforcement; and,
  • appeals.


Why were these amendments necessary? The old by-laws seemed to be working.

The previous assortment of some thirty sets of often dissimilar by-laws and policies was adequate for the decentralized municipal structure existing before amalgamation, but these regulations were:

  • a challenge to administer equitably on a uniform basis City-wide;
  • subject to multiple and conflicting interpretations by the public and District staff; and,
  • confusing and irritating to residents/business owners who viewed these inconsistencies as unfair and inefficient.

The amendments address this inequity by creating clear and consistent regulations standardized across the City. Most routine matters that occur on a daily basis, particularly encroachments and the issuing of street work and temporary street occupation permits, are delegated to staff for approval and will no longer unnecessarily encumber Community Council agendas. More importantly, harmonizing these regulations streamlines the approval process and results in consistency, efficiency and fairness to all our residents and business owners.

Why did it take this long for the City to move forward on these amendments?

The City always planned to create a clear and consistent “streets by-law” applicable to all property owners, and we recognized that the City of Toronto could not move forward administratively until comprehensive changes to this regulatory regime occurred. Unfortunately, consolidating hundreds of pages of often dissimilar legislation, legislation that in most cases evolved over the course of decades, is not an easy task at the best of times and delivering our core services as well as enforcing existing legislation had to take priority.

Did the City consult with the public on the amendments?

Absolutely! The amendments were posted on the City’s website in June 2011, inviting public review and comment. The City’s Resident’s and Business Improvement Associations were invited to consultation meetings held in the summer of 2011. Public open houses on the draft amendments were held in September 2011, in each Community Council District. Input from these consultations was incorporated into the by-law that was adopted by City Council in March of 2012.

Does this by-law harmonize all the “Streets By-laws” existing from the former municipalities?

No. Activities such as boulevard cafés, marketing in streets, vending and busking are subject to future harmonization efforts by other City Divisions.

The various by-laws enacted by the former municipalities were in effect until June 28, 2012, fourteen days after the Province approved the set fines for the offences introduced by the new by-law.

Do I need a permit to excavate in the City’s road allowance?

With the exception of planting “soft” landscaping (vegetation such as sod, hedges, flower/fruit/vegetable gardens), which is allowed without the need for a City permit provided that the landscaping is planted and maintained according to Articles IV and V, any work that involves digging, tunneling, cutting, boring or removing any portion of a public highway (referred to as “street work”), including temporary street occupations and constructing or repaving private driveways and walkways, is prohibited without prior municipal consent in the form of a permit issued by the General Manager of Transportation Services.

Anyone issued a street work or temporary street occupation permit must comply with the permit conditions described in Appendix A of Chapter 743, in addition to any other conditions that the General Manager requires. All of the conditions specified in Appendix A apply to every permit regardless of whether the conditions are actually stated on the permit. Non-compliance with any permit condition(s) can result in the City revoking the permit, as well as other related enforcement measures.

The City can rescind any permit obtained using false or misleading information, and will refuse to issue a permit to anyone who has violated conditions to permits issued to them previously, regardless of whether the permit is for the same location.

Everyone who obtains permit must provide Transportation Services with at least 48 hours notice before starting their street work or temporary street occupation. If the street work or temporary street occupation will occur within a Business Improvement Area, then the permit holder must also provide the BIA with 48 hours notice before starting their work or occupation.

Will the City maintain the public boulevard abutting my property?

Most of the former municipalities had some form of ‘expressed’ or ‘implied’ regulations delegating boulevard maintenance responsibilities, such as grass cutting, to adjoining property owners, but these obligations were not consistent.

To illustrate, property owners in former Toronto and York were responsible for maintaining boulevards, including grass cutting. But owners in Etobicoke, East York, and Scarborough were only obligated to keep their bushes and hedges trimmed, while commercial/industrial and multi-unit apartment owners in North York were required to cut the boulevard grass and remove garbage and other debris.

Since 2006, Chapter 918 of the Toronto Municipal Code requires residential property owners with front yard parking pads to maintain the boulevards adjoining their property, including encroachments, in a state of good repair with vegetation trimmed and kept in a state of healthy growth.

Clearly, what was missing was a uniform legislative approach to dealing with both public and municipal obligations relating to boulevard maintenance.

Article V of the amendments require that all property owners maintain driveways and private encroachments, such as landscaping, fences and retaining walls, in a state of good repair, with boulevard vegetation kept in a state of healthy growth with grass trimmed to a height not exceeding 20cm (eight inches). The boulevard must also be kept free of litter, leaves, lawn trimmings and noxious weeds.

Property owners who do not maintain the boulevard will be given written notice to maintain the boulevard and correct any deficiency within 14 days. If the specified work is not completed within the allotted time, then the City has the ability to perform the work and can collect its costs in a like manner as taxes.

In contrast to previous legislation where municipal responsibilities were not clearly expressed, the amendments state that the City is responsible for:

  • vegetation in centre medians and traffic islands;
  • street trees, hedges, shrubs and gardens planted by the City;
  • transit stops, sidewalks, retaining walls, fences and noise walls built by the City;
  • maintaining boulevards that the property owner cannot access because of grades or other constraints; and,
  • repairing damage to boulevards, excluding private encroachments, caused by motor vehicle crashes

Most residents appreciate, albeit reluctantly, that it is simply not realistic from a financial or logistical perspective for the City to provide a level of boulevard maintenance for the 5,600 kilometres of existing public road allowance to the high standard most residents prefer. As a result, the overwhelming majority of residents and business owners already assume this responsibility. They recognize that maintaining the municipal boulevard has a tangible benefit not only to their property values, but to the appearance and value of their communities as well.

What encroachments can I place in the municipal boulevard abutting my property?

We recognize that a property owner’s maintenance of municipal boulevards enhances and protects the value and safety of both private and public lands, and with this in mind, the amendments take a different approach to right-of-way administration. Previously, the simple act of planting a single flower in the City’s boulevards triggered the need for, depending on the location, a permit, an encroachment agreement, and the payment of associated fees that in some cases could amount to hundreds of dollars.

Article V of the amendments allows property owners to plant “soft” landscaping, such as hedges and gardens, in boulevards without the need for a permit or an encroachment agreement. The by-law allows additional encroachments in the boulevard, referred to as “permitted” encroachments, without an encroachment agreement with the City, specifically:

  • walkways less than 1.5 metres wide;
  • precast concrete curb stones and driveway curbs;
  • fences/retaining walls less than 0.90 metres in height, measured from the travelled surface of the adjoining road; and,
  • stairs.

These “permitted” encroachments are allowed “as of right” without the need for an encroachment agreement or annual fees, provided that the “permitted” encroachments comply with the following municipal requirements:

  • the encroachment does not obstruct pedestrian and vehicle sight lines;
  • the encroachment does not obstruct driveways, impede or pose a hazard or potential hazard to pedestrians or vehicle traffic;
  • the encroachment does not interfere with the City's ability to maintain the street in a state of good repair or to keep it free of litter, snow and ice;
  • the encroachment does not interfere with traffic control devices or the existing and future location and maintenance of sidewalks, bicycle trails or utilities;
  • the encroachment does not extend into the boulevard area fronting any neighbouring property when the common lot is projected perpendicular to the road; and,
  • any other criteria considered appropriate by the General Manager of Transportation Services.

To encourage compliance and obtain approval for the encroachment before the property owner constructs it, there is no fee for the permit. Just call us before starting the work, and staff will inspect the location and advise of any requirements that are necessary to issue a permit and bring the work into compliance the by-law.

The City’s Business Improvement Areas (BIA) are allowed a range of “permitted” encroachments, specifically:

  • planter boxes;
  • street furniture;
  • identification signage;
  • historical markers;
  • public art;
  • landscaping; and,
  • permanent decorative lighting and decorations.

These “permitted” encroachments do not require an encroachment agreement or paying permit fees. Again, a permit is still required to construct the “permitted” encroachment, but to encourage compliance and to obtain municipal approval for the encroachment before the BIA constructs or plants it, there is no fee for the permit.

Certain encroachments into municipal boulevards are normally prohibited, but are “delegated” to staff to approve, subject to conditions. These include:

  • canopies and awnings;
  • commercial and industrial boulevard parking;
  • banners;
  • temporary decorative lighting and decorations;
  • temporary street occupations (excluding street events and filming);
  • public art;
  • fences, ornamental walls and retaining walls higher than 0.90m above the travelled surface of the adjoining road;
  • railings, bollards, building projections, air conditioning units, arbours/pergolas, piling/shoring, bicycle stands, planter boxes and trees;
  • electronic equipment and associated signage for the purpose of counting vehicles and pedestrians in BIA areas; and,
  • fountains, ornaments, statues, weigh scales, areaways (above or below local streets and public alleys), conduit, fuel tanks, snow melting systems, vegetation sprinkler systems, and vents providing access to public transit systems.

These “delegated” encroachments require the preparation of an encroachment agreement as well as the payment of fees for the appropriate permits. Depending on the nature of the encroachment, financial securities may be required to ensure that the applicant completes the work to municipal requirements.

Encroachments into public road allowance that are not listed above can only be approved with the consent of Community Council or the appropriate Standing Committee.

Regardless of whether the encroachment is “permitted” or “delegated,” no encroachment, other than “soft” landscaping, is permitted:

  • within 0.50m of the curb line of any road with a speed limit of 60 km/h or less;
  • within 0.50m of the edge of the municipal sidewalk that is closest to the adjoining private property line;
  • within three metres of the travelled portion of any road without curbs that has a posted speed limit of 60 km/h or less; and,
  • within nine metres of the travelled portion of any road without curbs that has a posted speed limit more than 60 km/h.

The amendments clearly specify that property owners and BIAs are responsible for maintaining their encroachments in good repair, with vegetation maintained in a state of healthy growth. The City is not financially responsible for repairing or replacing encroachments damaged as a result of maintenance or reconstruction activities that occur in public road allowance.

I have an existing encroachment. Do they have to comply with the new by-law?

If the encroachment or driveway was approved by one of the former municipalities, then it is “grand parented.” It can stay as long as it remains in compliance with the terms and conditions of its original approval or agreement, including the payment of any associated fees.

This “grand parenting” disappears if the property violates the terms and conditions of its original approval, or when the property is the subject of an application for plan of subdivision, rezoning, official plan amendment, site plan approval, minor variance or consent.

I want to install a new driveway and walkway to my property? Do I need permission from the City?

Yes. The procedures surrounding the design and construction of walkways and driveways are described in Article VII of the amendments. Constructing, repaving, or resurfacing an existing driveway or walkway is considered excavation in public road allowance and requires a street work permit from Transportation Services.

What happens if my application permit is refused, or I want to appeal?

Under Article IX of the amendments, anyone whose application is refused can appeal the decision provided that they file a written request for an appeal to the General Manager of Transportation Services within 15 business days after the refusal. There is a non-refundable appeal fee of $661.97, excluding taxes that the applicant must pay within the 15 business days.

Following receipt of the written request for an appeal and the required fee, staff will prepare a report to the appropriate Standing Committee or Community Council.

Where a Standing Committee or Community Council considers and refuses an application, the applicant is not entitled to make a further application for the same address or location for a period of two years after the date of the previous application.

How long will it take to get a permit?

Anyone requesting a temporary street occupation permit for purposes that do not involve excavating, or occupying the street for social, recreational, community or athletic purposes (which is covered by § 743-7, Street events of Article I), as well as requests for permits to use City streets to transport oversize vehicles and excess loads, need to make their applications at least four business days before the permit is needed.

Short and full stream applications that involve installing public and private utilities in municipal road allowance must be made at least seven and 20 business days, respectively, before the permit is needed.

All other permit applications, including street work permits, must be submitted at least eight weeks before the permit is needed.