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Ever wonder if the guy down the street from you is really allowed to keep a pet elephant? What about the lady who just opened a butcher shop in her garage or the religious group which has its place of worship in the community park? The use of land in a community can be a tricky business, to say the least, and must be carefully checked against zoning by-laws.

Zoning by-laws control the use of land in your community. They state exactly:

An official plan sets out your municipality’s general policies for future land use. Zoning by-laws put the plan into effect and provide for its day-to-day administration, including the plan’s objectives and policies. They also contain specific requirements for land use and future development that are legally enforceable and serve to protect you from conflicting and possibly dangerous land uses in your community. Thus, construction or new development that does not comply with a zoning by-law is not allowed, and the municipality will refuse to issue a building permit.

Many municipalities have a comprehensive zoning by-law that divides the municipality into different land use zones, with detailed maps. This by-law specifies the permitted uses (e.g. commercial or residential) and the required standards (e.g. building size and location) in each zone.

In Minto Developments Inc. v. Nuttall, 1993 CanLII 5554 (ON SC), the respondent, Legault, was found to be in breach of a City of Nepean by-law when he turned a residence into a zoo for exotic animals. Specifically, various constrictor snakes, tarantulas and lizards were found on the subject property. These animals are amongst those that are strictly prohibited from residences by the by-law; but it includes an exception for those owners who owned these snakes before the passage of the by-law in June, 1993, if these snakes are kept in an escape-proof container. The respondents were in breach of paragraph 30(d) of that by-law by failing to keep their large pythons in an escape-proof enclosure. This resulted in one of the animals, a reticulated python between 13 and 20 feet long and four to six inches wide, appearing at the window of the residence and trying to get out where children were sitting below, which created alarm in the area. Another of the pythons was being kept in a child’s swimming pool in one of the bedrooms in the subject premises. The respondents did not deny this breach; they simply alleged that no escape of the pythons had ever taken place. The judge ruled that they were not in an escape-proof container simply by being in the room as the room itself is not an “enclosure”.

If you have concerns about a current or proposed zoning by-law or an amendment that may affect your use of a property or use of land in your community, please contact Andrea P. Kelly.

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