Toronto’s Tree By-laws were originally established in 2004 with a focus on education and compliance. When those by-laws were established, Urban Forestry stated that they would have limited resources to dedicate to the enforcement of contraventions. As a result, compliance with the by-laws was largely voluntary and based on cooperation.
In 2015, City Council established contravention inspection fees to help offset the cost of investigation and enforcement and therefore address, in part, the issue of lack of resources to engage in enforcement activity. The inspection fees are applied when Urban Forestry staff are able to determine when a contravention of the by-law has taken place. The fees ($637.30) can be laid to cover the cost of inspection and enforcement activity so that the cost is not taken on by the taxpayer.
In 2016, Urban Forestry began to pilot the use of contravention inspection fees and collected $315,068 as of December 5, 2016. These funds are used to expand enforcement capacity and any surplus fees are used to deliver the Urban Forestry Service Plan, which aims to grow the urban canopy to 40%.
Aside from issuing the inspection fee, if remedial action is required, Urban Forestry staff can issue an Order to Comply, which is similar to a warning. After a formal Order or warning has been issued, the City may enter the lands and do any remedial work at the property owner’s expense. In some cases, prosecution may be pursued and could result in a fine of $500 to $100,000 per tree.
Urban Forestry is in the process of finalizing standard procedures for enforcement, including establishing a compliance and enforcement unit. Urban Forestry will be reporting on the by-law investigation and enforcement process in 2017.
I look forward to seeing the enforcement unit formalized and hope that a regular and timely response to contraventions is established in the New Year. In the meantime, Urban Forestry has committed to shifting some of their limited resources towards more enforcement for Ward 16.