Foreword: the 2010 BIA handbook

This third edition of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Business Improvement Area Handbook provides a summary overview of procedures for establishing and operating a business improvement area (BIA) in Ontario. It is updated from the last (2004) edition of the Handbook and reflects changes to legislation and bylaws to March 1,  2010.

The new provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006, which are administered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), may impact the relationship between BIAs and municipalities.

In particular, the legislation now states that BIAs are local boards. Municipalities have considerable flexibility in the creation and operation of BIAs and other local boards.

The handbook also includes information on selected provincial economic development and retention tools that local governments can use in partnership with local business and commercial property owners, including business incubator programs and Community Improvement Plans (CIPs).

Important note to users

The handbook summarizes and deals with complex matters. It does not include all details and does not take into account local facts and circumstances. As well, the Handbook refers to or reflects laws and practices which are subject to change or do not apply in Ontario. Municipalities and BIAs are responsible for making local decisions, including compliance with any common law, applicable statutes or regulations.

For these reasons, the handbook, as well as any links or information from other sources referred to in it, should not be relied upon, including as a substitute for specialized legal or professional advice in connection with any particular matter. The user is solely responsible for any use or application of the handbook.

Although the handbook has been carefully prepared, the Ministry does not accept any legal responsibility for its contents or for any consequences, including direct or indirect liability, arising from its use.

For more information

The handbook cannot provide all of the answers to questions that may arise around the establishment and management of a BIA. It is recommended that municipalities and BIAs seek appropriate legal and professional advice.

Municipalities are encouraged to work with BIAs and local communities to devise solutions that work best in each area. The MMAH Municipal Services Offices are staffed to provide general information and assistance to municipalities, the public, BIAs and BIA associations on a regional basis.

Other general information may also be found through the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

In addition, useful information can be obtained from various municipalities, other existing BIAs, and BIA umbrella organizations such as the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA).

The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) is an umbrella association of almost 200 BIAs in Ontario. Established in 2001, OBIAA “represents, supports and encourages” member BIAs “to increase their effectiveness and their contribution to the economic, cultural and social well-being of communities in Ontario.” OMAFRA and MMAH each have a representative on the OBIAA Board. Among other resources, a detailed operational handbook and a list of member BIA contacts and web links can be found at

The Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) is an umbrella organization working with about 70 Toronto BIAs and 27,000 associated businesses. TABIA was established in 1980 and provides members with “ongoing means of collecting and exchanging information and addressing common issues and concerns.” The TABIA BIA Operating Handbook, available at, contains both references to legislative requirements and best practices of Toronto BIAs. It may be used in conjunction with other sources, which include, but are not limited to, the City of Toronto Municipal Code, including Chapter  19, the City of Toronto Act, 2006, and the Municipal Act, 2001, including sections 204 – 215.

Some municipalities, such as Ottawa, Hamilton and Windsor, coordinate the activities of their BIAs.