A large part of Toronto's urban forest grows on private property. Private trees are an important part of the urban forest that is nurtured and protected by Urban Forestry. In some cases, trees on private property are protected and regulated under the provisions of municipal by-laws.
Urban Forestry encourages property owners to work with us to keep Toronto’s trees healthy and to protect healthy trees on private property that are not subject to the provisions of municipal by-laws.
Private Tree By-law
The Private Tree By-law was adopted to preserve significant trees on private property in the City of Toronto, to assist in sustaining the urban forest in the City and to educate individuals with respect to tree protection measures and alternatives to tree injury and destruction. This by-law is formally known as City of Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 813, Article III, 'Private Tree Protection,' and is commonly referred to as the City's "Private Tree By-law". This by-law regulates injury or removal of privately owned trees which measure 30 cm in diameter or more as measured at 1.4 m above ground level.
Phone within Toronto city limits: 311
Phone outside city limits: 416-392-CITY (2489)
(can be used within Toronto if you can't reach 311)
E-mails are usually responded to within 48 hours.
How to Measure a Tree's Diameter
The Private Tree By-law protects trees on private property that are 30 cm (12 inches) or more in diameter at 1.4 m (4 ˝ feet) above ground level.
To quickly estimate a tree’s diameter, hold a 30 cm (12 inch) ruler up to the tree at 1.4 m (4 ˝ feet) above ground level (this is an average person’s shoulder height). If the tree is well undersized or well oversized, then this method will do to determine whether or not the tree is protected by the private tree by-law.
If it is greater than 30 cm (12 inches) wide, read on! If it’s undersized, you don’t need the City’s permission to injure or destroy the tree. If the measurement is close to 30 cm (12 inches) wide, then follow the steps below to get an accurate measurement to see whether or not the tree is protected. You’ll also need to measure the exact diameter of the tree if you’re doing construction – in order to determine the required “tree protection zone” that you’ll have to protect.
Quick tips for measuring your tree:
- A tree with a diameter (width) of 30 cm (12 inches) has a circumference (distance around the trunk, like measuring your waist) of 94.2 cm (37 inches).
- The diameter/circumference must be measured at 1.4 m (4 ˝ feet) above ground level (approximately shoulder height).
- Measure the circumference (like measuring your waist) of the tree at 1.4 m (4 ˝ feet) above the ground (This is an average person’s shoulder height.)
- Use a calculator to divide the number by pi (3.1416). This will give you the diameter. The diameter is the width of the tree trunk, just like the width of a pizza, or of a 12- inch ruler.
For a multi-stemmed tree, see below.
Information about Permits to Injure or Destroy Trees
If you require a permit to remove or injure a protected tree, you must complete and submit an Application to Injure or Destroy Trees and the required fee and supplementary documents to the appropriate district office, as shown below. An arborist report is required for all Applications to Injure or Destroy Trees. You can find professional tree service companies, that can prepare an arborist report, by checking the Yellow Pages or similar business directories such as The Gold Book. An internet search using keyphrases such as "tree service companies Toronto" should provide listings as well.
Arborists are certified with the International Society of Arboriculture (I.S.A.) or registered with the American Society of Consulting Arborists (A.S.C.A.). You may mail, courier, or hand-deliver the completed application package to the appropriate district office as shown below.
- Etobicoke York District: 399 The West Mall, Main Floor - North Block, M9C 2Y2
- Scarborough District: 70 Nashdene Rd, M1V 2V2
- North York District: 5100 Yonge St, 3rd Floor, M2N 5V7
- Toronto and East York District: 50 Booth Ave, M4M 2M2
The Private Tree By-law does not apply to the ravine and natural feature portion of properties regulated under the provisions of Municipal Code, Chapter 658 (the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection By-law). You must submit a Ravine and Natural Feature Protection Permit Application to injure or destroy any vegetation in the ravine and natural feature area. For more information, please see the Ravine and Natural Feature section of our website.
Ash trees on private property that are infested with Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) are exempt from requiring a permit for removal. To obtain an exemption you must contact 3-1-1 Toronto. The 3-1-1 Customer Service Representative will collect information to confirm the signs and symptoms of EAB that you have observed, in order to provide an exemption. The information collected from property owners will be useful in helping Urban Forestry understand the progress and speed of the infestation across the City. Verbal exemptions will be provided, along with a reference number.
Ash trees on private property within protected ravine areas are also exempt, and will be administered as noted above.
In the interest of safety, Urban Forestry recommends that property owners hire a qualified arborist to remove trees. You may find professional tree service companies in the Yellow Pages under "Tree Services".
For information on disposal of ash trees including brush, wood and wood chips from ash tree removals, please see http://www.toronto.ca/311/knowledgebase/12/101000038712.html.
A permit is not required if a tree is confirmed by Urban Forestry staff to be:
- 100% dead
- Imminently hazardous: a destabilized or structurally compromised tree that is in imminent danger of causing damage to property or injury to life.
- Terminally diseased Please note: There are various diseases that affect trees, however not all diseases will lead to the death of a tree. The intent of the by-law is to exempt those trees that are terminally diseased in order to expedite removal to minimize risk to other trees and/or injury to persons or property. A permit is required for trees that are in poor condition.
The Private Tree By-law was adopted to preserve significant trees on private property in the City of Toronto, to assist in sustaining the urban forest in the City and to educate individuals with respect to tree protection measures and alternatives to tree injury and destruction.The permit process is designed to help increase our city's canopy cover, which is currently estimated to be between 26.6 - 28%, to 40%.. Permits to destroy trees are issued conditional upon planting replacement trees. Permit exemptions do not require a replanting plan, fee or application form. Although the replanting of trees is not a condition of the exemption, we encourage property owners to plant a new tree on the property to replace the one being removed.
The quickest and easiest way to receive exemption confirmation is to submit an arborist report and digital photographs of the subject tree via email to the appropriate Tree Protection and Plan Review District office:
Please put your address (e.g. 123 Main St) as the subject heading of your email to expedite processing. Alternatively, you may mail or drop off in person your arborist report and photos to the appropriate district office. If you do not have access to email or a digital camera, you may fax a detailed arborist report to the appropriate District Offices:
- Etobicoke York District Fax: (416) 394-5406
- Scarborough District Fax: (416) 396-4248
- North York District Fax: (416) 395-7886
- Toronto and East York District Fax: (416) 392-7277
You must receive confirmation from Urban Forestry before proceeding with the removal of the tree, unless immediate tree work is required to eliminate a dangerous situation. If Urban Forestry determines that a tree does not qualify for exemption, you will need to submit a complete permit application.
Questions & Answers about the Private Tree By-law :
What is the benefit of the city-wide Private Tree By-law?
The intent of the city-wide Private Tree By-law is to protect trees situated on private property from being damaged or cut-down unnecessarily and to ensure the on-going health and well-being of the city's urban forest. Additionally, the Private Tree By-law provides a standardized and equitable approach to protecting the city's urban forest while helping to increase awareness of the environmental, aesthetic and economic benefits of trees. Additionally, the Private Tree By-law directly supports the City's Official Plan, which recognizes the important contribution of trees to the quality of life in Toronto.
How can I report or complain about someone cutting down a tree or trees on private property?
Phone within Toronto city limits: 311. Phone outside city limits: 416-392-CITY(2489) to complain about someone cutting down or injuring a tree on private property. Forestry staff has been designated the authority to enter private property if they suspect that trees are being cut down or harmed illegally and to issue a stop work order under the provisions of the City of Toronto Act..
What trees are covered by the Private Tree By-law?
The Private Tree By-law protects all species of trees with a diameter of 30 centimetres (12 inches) or greater measured at 1.4 metres (4 ˝ feet) above the ground. It applies to trees on all land use types including, single family residential.
Does this mean that I cannot cut down a tree on my own property?
No, but it does mean that you must make application to injure or remove a tree on your property that is covered by the private tree by-law and receive a permit to do so. A tree that is dead, terminally diseased or imminently hazardous does not require a permit. See "Permit Exemption" section above for details regarding how to receive confirmation of exemption from Urban Forestry.
Does the By-law apply to all species of trees?
Does the By-law apply to all types of land-use?
Yes, it applies to trees on all land use types including single family residential. It does not apply to areas designated under the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection by-law.
Is there a permit application fee involved?
Yes. The permit fee for non-construction related applications is $100/tree. The permit fee for proposed construction related applications is $300/tree. Construction related applications are defined as: Applications to Injure or remove trees associated with activity that includes but is not limited to building, demolition, excavation, boring, placement of fill or surface treatment, storage of construction materials or equipment, storage of soil, construction waste or debris, movement of vehicles and equipment. Applications for Official plan amendments, zoning by-law amendments, plans of subdivision and condominiums, site plan control, minor variance, consent and building permit applications.
What is an Arborist Report?
An Arborist Report details specific and accurate information about the trees in question, such as location, condition, structural integrity, disease, infestations and vigour. It also identifies the nature of the work to be undertaken and appropriate protection measures. (click here for "Guidelines for Completion of an Arborist Report").
Why is an Arborist Report required?
An Arborist Report helps determine the legitimacy or merit of requests for tree removal and enables the efficient review of proposals by City staff. This results in fewer delays in responding to inspection requests and the processing of applications.
How do I measure the diameter of a tree that is growing with a straight stem as opposed to a tree growing with a lean or a tree growing straight on a slope?
For purposes of measuring diameter to determine if a tree qualifies under the private tree by-law, trees with straight, upright stems, (see Fig. 1), will have their diameter measured at 1.4 metres above ground level. For trees growing on an angle from a horizontal grade and for trees growing vertical on slopes, (see Figs. 2 and 3), the diameter shall be measured at right angles to the stem 1.4 metres along the centre of the stem axis. If you do not have a diameter tape, you can determine the diameter of a tree by measuring the circumference of a tree stem, at 1.4 metres above ground level, with a regular measuring tape (like measuring your waist size). The circumference can then be divided by pi (3.1416) to obtain the diameter.
How do I measure the diameter of a double-stem or multiple stem tree?
For double-stem or multi-stemmed trees, the diameter measurement is to be taken at a height of 1.4 metres above ground level for each stem. Where at least one stem measures 30 cm in diameter or greater, the tree is protected under the by-law,(see Fig. 4) If you do not have a diameter tape, you can determine the diameter of a tree by measuring the circumference of a tree stem, at 1.4 metres above ground level, with a regular measuring tape (like measuring your waist size). The circumference can then be divided by pi (3.1416) to obtain the diameter.
What is tree injury?
A tree's roots may extend 2-3 times the width of the canopy and removal of a large portion of its roots may lead to the decline and eventual death of a tree, or may cause it to be destabilized. Urban Forestry's minimum requirements for construction near trees are identified in our Tree Protection Policy and Specifications for Construction Near Trees.
Tree protection barriers, as approved by Urban Forestry, must be erected at or beyond the Tree Protection Zone (TPZ) shown on Table 1 of the Tree Protection Policy and Specifications for Construction Near Trees. If they cannot be erected at the required distance, an injury permit may be required. Please note that you are not only required to protect trees on your property, but also those on adjacent properties.
Here are some examples of things that may require an injury permit:
- Building a structure within the tree protection zone (TPZ)
- Demolishing a structure within the TPZ
- Removing an existing slab-on grade garage within the TPZ
- Constructing a deck whose piers will be within the TPZ
- Laying a driveway within the TPZ, or replacing a driveway within the TPZ, including interlocking stone driveways.
- Using the TPZ as an access area for construction vehicles
- Constructing a new structure or a 2nd storey addition that would require pruning a tree in excess of good arboricultural standards
Why do I have to plant a new tree?
The Urban Forestry objectives contained in the City of Toronto's Official Plan include increasing our city's tree canopy cover from its current 17% to 30 to 40%. The planting of replacement trees is integral to the private tree by-law. Permits to remove trees are issued conditional upon planting new trees. Cash in lieu of replanting (currently $583 per tree) may be accepted, where replacement planting is not physically possible on site and subject to approval by Urban Forestry, for the City to plant trees on the road allowance or in parks.
What happens after I submit my permit application?
Urban Forestry staff will review your application to ensure that it is complete. You will be notified in writing of any missing items. Once Urban Forestry is satisfied that the application package is complete, staff will conduct a site visit to verify the assessment of your arborist and to determine if a permit may be issued and/or if a public notification process is required.
Submission of an application does not guarantee that a permit will be issued. Factors that Urban Forestry will consider when reviewing permit applications include (but are not limited to): the health of the tree, its significance in the neighbourhood and the proximity of the tree to existing and proposed structures.
Where a public notification process is required, Urban Forestry staff will post a "Notice" of application on the subject property to notify passers-by of the application to injure or destroy tree(s). This provides the community with the opportunity to submit comments to Urban Forestry on the application. The sign must be posted for a period of not less than fourteen (14) days. After the posting period expires, Urban Forestry staff consults with the ward councillor, advising him/her of our recommendations, and a decision is made with respect to whether the permit will be issued or denied.
A public notice period is not required for trees that are in poor condition.
If a permit is going to be issued, you will receive a document to sign called an Undertaking and Release which confirms your intent to plant the replacement tree(s) or implement the tree protection plan. This document also needs to be signed by a witness (who can be anyone other than the owner of the property). Once Urban Forestry staff receives the signed, dated and witnessed Undertaking and Release, the permit will be issued. You may not proceed with the injury or removal of the tree(s) until you have received the permit.
After planting the replacement tree(s), or the erection of the tree protection hoarding, you are to notify Urban Forestry, and we will conduct a site visit to verify that the necessary conditions have been met.
If the permit to injure or destroy trees is denied, you will be notified in writing. If you wish to appeal this decision to City Council you are to notify Urban Forestry staff and we will prepare the necessary report to Community Council. Community Council will make a recommendation related to your request which will go to City Council for a decision.
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