Is it Illegal to Cut the Trees in your own Back Yard?

June 27, 2018

It may seem like owning a home with a yard would mean you would have ownership over the trees within it, and total control over trimming them, pruning them, or cutting them down. But did you know that in the City of Toronto there are bylaws dictating what you can and can’t do to the larger  trees in your own yard – even if you were the one who planted them!

If you own a home in Toronto, or if you are looking to purchase one, you should be aware that the Private Tree Bylaw protects medium to large trees over 30cm in diameter on private property from being removed or improperly pruned without first obtaining a permit. To see if your tree falls under this protective bylaw, you simply need to measure it. Take the measurement at exactly 1.4 meters from the ground, and measure around at that point. This will give you the circumference of the tree. Divide that by 3.14 to find out your diameter. If that number is 30cm or greater, you will need to obtain a permit if you plan to cut down the tree, dig too close to the tree, or do any heavy pruning.

The bylaw was designed to prevent established healthy trees from being cut down for no other reason than the current home owner simply didn’t want them there. Developers also have to obtain the same permits before they can cut down or build too close to a medium or large tree, protecting Toronto’s beautiful tree line and vastly helping our air quality.

There are professional tree care companies in the city that are familiar with all of the steps involved in dealing with trees that are protected by the bylaw, and can walk you through the process. Be aware that the city will not take your word for it if the tree is anywhere near 30cm in diameter and you do something to it with no proof that it was under the limit. Measurements you take yourself can only be used as a guide for your next steps. In all cases where a tree is close to 30cm in diameter, you will need to have a certified arborist measure the tree and fill out an official report stating the exact measurement of the tree. This is far less expensive than risking the fines involved in skipping the permit process. A very prominent case recently involved the developers working for Toronto rapper Drake, on his Bridle Path property. A contentious battle broke out between the city and the developers, the developers claiming that the trees they had cut were too small to qualify, while angry neighbors displayed pictures of what the property had looked like before they got started. The jury is still out on whether fines will be laid, but the fines they could be facing could be anywhere between $500 to a whopping $100,000 for every single tree, in addition to the $100,000 fine you automatically incur just for violating the bylaw. Even if the tree appears to be dead, you need an arborist to confirm it in writing.

It may seem excessive, but the process for obtaining the proper permits is not a complicated one. Simply contact a local tree care company that employs arborists and they can help you. In the case where your application does not get approved, the arborist can help you develop a tree protection plan, which allows you to do as much as you legally can without endangering the trees life or facing any fines.

One of the best and most unique things about living in Toronto is the beautiful treeline and heavily forested areas. Just look at our slogan, “a city within a park”. It may take some strict rules to ensure it stays that way, but when all is said and done, it’s well worth it.


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