Injuring or removing a by-law protected tree without a permit is illegal and could result in enforcement action, including being fined up to $100,000 per tree. Urban Forestry staff will inspect and respond to reports of a tree related contravention and may issue remedial orders such as Stop Work Orders and Orders to Comply or pursue prosecution.
What is a Tree By-law Contravention?
Urban Forestry staff will conduct an investigation to determine compliance with the provisions of the Municipal Code Chapters 608, 658 and 813, collectively referred to as the City’s Tree By-laws, and compliance with the conditions of any permits issued.
A Tree By-law contravention is any action or activity that violates the City’s Tree By-laws. For example, when someone cuts down or injures a bylaw protected tree without a permit, they are committing a Tree Bylaw contravention.
A tree injury is any act that may harm a tree’s health in any manner. Also, failing to protect a tree according to the City standards is also considered a tree injury. Minimum tree protection zones (TPZ) are established to ensure the protection of trees. These areas around bylaw protected trees must be protected from construction activities. The Tree Protection Policy and Specifications for Construction Near Trees outlines information about TPZ and other specifications.
How to Report a Tree By-law Contravention
If you suspect that someone is cutting down or injuring a tree without a permit, you can report it by:
- Calling 311 if you are located within Toronto city limits
- Calling 416-392-CITY(2489) if you are calling about a tree in Toronto and located outside Toronto city limits
- Sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Urban Forestry will investigate reports of potential Tree By-law contraventions and take appropriate action.
When you contact 311, a 311 Operator will ask a series of questions to verify details that assist in the City’s investigation. If you witness a contravention taking place, you can assist the City’s investigation by providing helpful information that answer ‘Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How’. Helpful evidence includes:
- The address where the tree is located
- The date and time that the contravention took place
- The estimated size, species and condition of the tree being removed or injured
- The company names of any contractors on site
- License plate numbers of contractors on site
- Photos or videos of the contravention taking place
Only make observations or take photos if it is safe to do so. Urban Forestry will ensure the name of a complainant remains confidential, however photos and videos provided may be used throughout the investigation process and be used as evidence in court.
311 Operators will also provide you with a reference number so you can follow up on the progress of the investigation. However, City staff are not authorized to release some details about an open contravention investigation.
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Under the authority of the Toronto Municipal Code and City of Toronto Act, Urban Forestry staff are authorized to enter onto private property at any reasonable time to investigate a suspected or confirmed Tree By-law contravention, or to confirm compliance with the Tree By-laws. Failure to provide access may result in enforcement actions including charges. Staff will attempt to contact property owners and obtain permission before entering private property, but will proceed with their inspection if there is no response. If a property owner disputes the authority to enter the property, Toronto Police Services may be called to assist with the investigation.
Witness statements are also important to ensuring successful enforcement actions. If someone witnesses, documents and reports someone committing a Tree By-law contravention, this evidence can be key to establishing proof of a contravention. Residents may be asked to testify in court, in order to use their evidence in court. In court, witnesses must verify their own evidence.
Urban Forestry’s Tree By-law Contravention Investigation Process
Urban Forestry does not accept applications to injure or remove trees after the fact. Instead, once a Tree By-law contravention is confirmed, staff will investigate, collect evidence and determine the appropriate enforcement action. Enforcement actions fall into two main categories or processes:
- Compliance Orders
Urban Forestry can issue Stop Work Orders and/or Orders to Comply when Tree By-law contraventions have been committed. The issuance of compliance orders is the most common enforcement action used by Urban Forestry, as the majority of Tree By-law contraventions can be remediated through corrective work, or compensatory replacement planting.
Stop Work Orders
Urban Forestry issues Stop Work Orders when unauthorized tree injuries or removals are in progress. Stop Work Orders require that all work is stopped within the TPZ where contraventions are observed to prevent further injury or damage to trees. Stop Work Orders are typically served immediately, while on-site.
Orders to Comply
Urban Forestry issues Orders to Comply to correct Tree By-law contraventions when remedial work can be done to prevent further injury, or to compensate for damage to trees or natural features. Orders to Comply are typically served by registered mail to the person or corporation committing the contravention, and include a deadline to complete remedial work. Examples of remedial work can include:
- Installation of tree protection hoarding
- Restoration of TPZ disturbed by construction using good quality soil and mulch
- Removal of materials or unauthorized construction that has encroached within TPZ
- Removal of fill or restoring grades within protected ravine areas
- Compensation tree planting
- 5 trees to be planted for every 1 Tree By-law regulated tree removed without authorization
- 2 trees to be planted for every 1 tree injured within a Ravine and Natural Feature regulated area without authorization
Contravention Inspection Fees
Contravention Inspection fees are collected under the authority of:
- Municipal Code, Chapter 813 Trees, Article II, Trees on City Streets, Section 813-5.V.
- Municipal Code, Chapter 813 Trees, Article III, Private Tree Protection, Section 813-15.J. and
- Municipal Code, Chapter 658 Ravine and Natural Feature Protection, Section 658-9.B.(5).
Contravention Inspection Fees are applied to each bylaw-protected tree that has been injured, removed or destroyed without prior permit authorization. Contravention Inspection Fees are collected to recover staffing and resource costs associated with the investigation of contraventions and the effective enforcement of the Tree Protection By-laws. The Fee values are identified in Municipal Code Chapter 441, Fees and Charges, Appendix E, Schedule 1 Parks, Forestry and Recreation. These fees are adjusted annually for inflation. All Urban Forestry service counters can accept and process these payments.
Contravention Inspection Fee Payments
If Contravention Inspection Fees are not received within 90 days from issuance of the Order to Comply, Urban Forestry will collect the Contravention Inspection Fee by adding the value to the property owner’s tax roll as per Municipal Code Chapter 441-9. Adding fees and charges to the tax roll.
Contravention Inspection Fee appeal
There is no formal process to appeal the Contravention Inspection Fee. If you wish to dispute a fee or you believe a fee has been improperly applied, an email should be sent to Urban Forestry at email@example.com. You will be connected to the staff assigned to the file. If necessary the complaint may be escalated to the Supervisor and/or Manager as per Urban Forestry’s complaint resolution process.
Under the authority of the Toronto Municipal Code and City of Toronto Act, Urban Forestry staff and its vendors may enter onto private lands to correct a contravention, where an Order to Comply has not been fulfilled by the stated deadline. The cost of this work is charged to the property owner responsible for the contravention. Corrective work that can complete by City vendors includes:
- Installation of tree protection hoarding to protect TPZ
- Installation of soil and mulch to restore TPZ
- Removal of materials encroaching within TPZ
- Pruning of branches following proper arboricultural practices to mitigate damage to a tree
- Removal of trees that have been destroyed or destabilized
In certain circumstances the City will pursue charges against offender(s) that are suspected of committing a Tree By-law contravention. Urban Forestry may pursue charges under Part 3 of the Provincial Offences Act for offences under Municipal Code Chapters 658, 813 and 608. This action is primarily reserved for sites where the contravention, as determined by the City is significant in nature, there are repeated offenders and where there is no work that could remedy the infraction (e.g. a severely damaged or completely removed City-owned tree). The primary objective is to obtain appropriate fines for the offense committed and deter future wrongdoing.
Urban Forestry staff considers several factors when deciding whether to pursue charges against offender(s) including:
- Whether the contravention may be remediated through a Compliance Order
- Obvious and willful disregard of the Tree By-laws
- Accountability of an offenders profession involved in a contravention
- Analysis of the quality and type of evidence collected
- Witness statements
- Significance of the offence
- Date the offence occurred (how much time has lapsed)
A fine may be awarded by the courts along with other outcomes related to compliance with the contravened bylaw. A person convicted of an offence under the By-law is liable to:
- a minimum fine of $500.00 per tree and to a maximum fine of $100,000.00 per tree and
- a special fine of $100,000.00.
Where it is proven the offending party benefited financially from an offence, a special or additional fine will be applied to reduce or eliminate the benefit gained.
The City will consider the following information when recommending an appropriate fine to be applied:
- The appraised value of the tree, determined using the City’s tree appraisal method, based on the formula by Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers (CTLA) in association with International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The appraised tree value calculation is based on the tree diameter, species, condition and location.
- The value of compensation tree planting required
- The financial circumstances of the defendant
- Consideration of repeated offenses and convictions
- Impact on neighbours and community
- Behaviour of defendant during the investigation
In addition to a fine as determined through the court process, Contravention Inspection Fees will be applied for each tree under investigation.
The content posted on this website is for general information purposes only and not intended to provide legal advice or opinions. If you wish to seek legal advice please consult with a qualified legal professional.