后院噩梦: 割草花了$1300!
My backyard nightmare: $1300 grass cutting job


When Mr. Liu came back to his Toronto home in Oct. 2010, after a few months’ stay in China, he quickly noticed the changes in his backyard.


Apart from the long grass getting a trim, he also noticed that his backyard property– bicycles, roof tiles, and patio furniture – were gone. Were they stolen by random thieves or the result of vandalism?


Liu shockingly realized that they were hauled away by the city of Toronto. To his further surprise, the city has billed him for the costs of cutting grass, hauling away “yard waste”, and inspecting the property. The total amount of the bills reached as high as over $1300, which Liu calls it his “backyard nightmare”.


Here is the breakdown of the bills:


Hauling away backyard waste: $881.5


Cutting grass: $259.2


Two inspections on the property: $212


Liu noticed that the two inspection bills refer to two separate one-hour inspection work on his property done on the same day: one was for long grass and the other was for backyard waste.


“Isn’t this a cash grab? Is the city abusing its power in billing homeowners?” He asked, clenching his fist. “Isn’t it illegal for by-law officers to break into my property and take away backyard stuff? Who has given them the authority to do so?”


Liu filed a complaint against the by-law enforcement officer, accusing him of committing criminal offences by breaking into homeowner’s property, stealing their personal belongings, and abusing its power in billing homeowners.


In fact, there is nothing illegal about municipal law enforcement officials pursuing some bylaw complaints by going into your backyard and hauling away the stuff deemed as yard waste – even if the homeowner hung out a No Trespassing sign.


They can even climb over your fence and take pictures, as the City of Orillia did to Barbara Nicol when a bylaw officer took it upon himself to check if Barbara had complied with an order from the city. Her “No Trespassing” sign afforded her no protection.


In Canada, taking care of your backyard garden is an essential part of homeowners’ responsibilities. Watering, fertilizing, and cutting are the necessary household chores to maintain a healthy and clean backyard. Homeowners who fail to maintain a well-manicured lawn and a clean tidy backyard will be in the cross-hairs of city’s by-law enforcement actions.

多伦多市府牌照标准局发言人罗宾逊(Tammy Robinson)通过电子邮件向《大中报》表示,多市附例要求业主将草皮高度维持在8英寸以内,不按附例要求行事的条例违规者,将受到执法部门的惩罚。

Tammy Robbinson, media officer for City of Toronto’s licensing and standard office, told Chinese News through emails that the City’s by-law requires homeowners to keep the length of the grass less than 8 inch long, and enforcement action is taken if homeowners fail to comply with the by-law’s requirements.


“If a complaint is received regarding long grass and weeds (our investigations are complaint-based), a letter is first sent to the property owner letting them know about our bylaw and asking them to comply by cutting the grass/weeds within 14 days.


“The City only does the work as a ‘last resort’ if the property owner does not comply with the order to maintain the property,” reads the email.


An inspection notice was sent to Liu’s home before the city contractors came in and cleaned his backyard. But as Liu was away and his wife wasn’t able to read English, the city’s notice was ignored until the charges for enforcement actions were added to his property tax bill.


The enforcement actions include hiring contractors to cut the grass and to haul away yard waste at the costs of homeowners. Contractors are allowed to charge homeowners at a rate of  $0.50/sq.  metre on top of administration fees – a staunch premium compared to market rates.


By-law infractions are pursued regardless of whether property owners have read the inspection notice. According to Robbinson, service fees are not waived or reduced due to homeowners’ language barriers.


“If a resident has difficulty speaking or understanding information provided, they can contact 311 and an interpreter will help them,” says Robbinson.


Ontario courts recognize that the values of public safety, health, and well-being outweigh the values secured through privacy protections. The courts give by-law officers the power to pursue an investigation stemming from a complaint, or an inspection following an order by the city.


In fact, municipal by-law officers are more powerful than cops when it comes to pursuing investigation into municipal by-law infractions. Under Ontario Municipal Act, while police officers cannot climb your fence, and enter your property without a search warrant, Ontario municipal bylaw officers are allowed to enter into your private property to pursue enforcement at all reasonable times – without a warrant.


The city has squarely denied Liu’s complaint, indicating that by-law officers are authorized to enter private properties to conduct inspections regarding by-law violations.


“I have not found any evidence to support this allegation in our investigation files,” reads the response letter by the by-law department director.


Note: The story was published in Chinese News in February, 2012.

我们鼓励所有读者在我们的文章和博客上分享意见。We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. Visit the FAQ page for more information.