About land severances

A land severance is the authorized separation of a piece of land to form a new lot or parcel of land. This occurs by way of an approval known as a consent. A consent is required if you want to sell, mortgage, charge or enter into any agreement for more than 21 years for a portion of your land. If the land is split already, by a public road or railway for example, consent is not needed.

Most municipalities with an approved official plan have specific policies and requirements for land severances. In addition to the division of land, rights-of-way, easements and any change to your existing property boundaries also require consents.

If several severances are intended for the same area, a plan of subdivision may be more appropriate. It is up to the consent-granting authority in your area to decide whether a consent is the best approach or if a plan of subdivision is necessary for the proper and orderly development of your community. (See section 4, Subdivisions)

Why you need approval to sever land

The indiscriminate division of land without planning review and approval can have a long-term, negative impact on your community. For example, it could result in over-extension of municipal services, such as snow plowing, school busing and garbage collection. Or it might result in damage to the natural environment if lots are too small to accommodate adequate sewage disposal systems.

Approval is required to ensure that:

  • land severances are considered within an established planning framework
  • new parcels of land and new land uses do not conflict with the overall future planning goals and policies of your community
  • consideration is given to the effects of the division of land on the site, on the neighbours and on the community as a whole

Once a severance has been approved, the new land parcels may be sold or resold without further approval. The only exceptions are if the consent-granting authority has specified that this should not occur without further approval (for example, for an approval of a severance that is adding land to a neighbouring lot (often called a lot addition)).

Land severance approvals

The approval of severances can rest with one of a number of different governing bodies. Depending on the area, an upper-tier or single-tier municipal council may grant consents. An upper-tier municipality may then delegate the function to a committee of council or an appointed officer. It may also delegate the authority to a lower-tier municipality, a land division committee or to a municipal planning authority. A single or lower-tier municipality may also delegate its approval functions to a committee of council, an appointed officer or to a committee of adjustment. In Northern Ontario, where planning approval has not been assigned or delegated to a municipality or planning board, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing grants consents (See section 7, Northern Ontario).

To determine the consent-granting authority in your area, contact your municipal clerk, the secretary-treasurer of the planning board or your nearest Municipal Services Office.

The process for a severance application

Before you apply for a land severance, you should consult with municipal staff and/or the consent-granting authority in your area. They will be able to tell you how to apply, what supporting material you must submit (for example, sketches, plans), if there are any special land severance requirements set out in the official plan and what other permits and approvals (for example, a septic system permit) may be required.

The consent-granting authority may not accept an application that fails to provide the information or material prescribed by minister’s regulation and, in some cases, the information set out in the official plan. If a consent-granting authority confirms that an application is incomplete, an applicant who disagrees may make a motion to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) or, if established by the municipality, a local appeal body, to decide the matter.

The OLT (or local appeal body’s) decision is final. However, in such situations, you are strongly encouraged to work out a mutually-acceptable solution with the consent-granting authority before making a motion to the OLT or local appeal body.

When applying for a land severance, you may be charged a fee for processing the application. To determine the processing fee in your area, contact the appropriate consent-granting authority.

As an applicant, you are usually required to fill out a consent application form provided by the consent-granting authority.

A typical application form contains both the information which is prescribed by minister’s regulation as well as additional information which the consent-granting authority may require. The more information you provide, the less likely delays will occur in the review process.

If you do not provide all the information prescribed by minister’s regulation and in some cases, information or material set out in the official plan, the consent-granting authority may refuse to accept or to further consider your application. The 90-day timeframe for making a decision does not begin until all the required information is received. You are encouraged to contact the appropriate consent-granting authority if you need help in assessing what information is required.

The consent-granting authority must give notice of application before a decision is made. Notice of application is given at least 14 days in advance of a decision by the consent-granting authority, either through local newspapers or by mail and posted notice. Any person or public body may submit his or her views to the consent-granting authority.

The consent-granting authority may consult with agencies, boards, authorities or commissions before making a decision.

When the consent-granting authority has decided on your application, it is required to send a notice of decision to any person or public body requesting to be notified within 15 days of the decision being made. When a notice of decision is given, a 20-day appeal period follows.

How a severance application is evaluated

In considering each application for land severance, the consent-granting authority evaluates the merits of each proposal against criteria such as:

  • conformity with the official plan and compatibility with neighbouring uses of land
  • suitability of the land for the proposed purpose, including the size and shape of the lot(s) being created
  • adequacy of vehicular access, water supply, sewage disposal
  • the need to ensure protection from potential flooding

In considering a consent application, the consent-granting authority’s decision shall be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and conform/not conflict with any applicable provincial plan. This means that a council must ensure that provincial policies and plans are applied as an essential part of the land use planning decision-making process.

The PPS contains policy directions on matters of provincial interest related to land use planning and development. It is expected that the consent-granting authority will implement the PPS in the context of other planning objectives and local circumstances. (See section 1, The Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement, 2020).

Provincial plans contain specific land use planning policies that address issues facing specific geographic areas in Ontario (for example, A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan).

Conditions of severance approval

When a proposed severance is eligible for approval, the consent-granting authority can give provisional consent (sometimes called consent-in-principle). This approval typically has certain conditions attached to it including requirements for road widenings, parkland dedication, or a rezoning (or minor variance) to adjust the permitted lot dimensions. In addition, the property owner may be required to enter into an agreement with the municipality to provide future services or facilities. Severance conditions must be met within two years.

When all the conditions have been met by the applicant, a certificate is issued by the authority, and the severance goes into effect after it has been registered in the land registry office.

If the transaction originally applied for – sale of property, for example – is not carried out within two years of the date of the certificate, the severance is considered lapsed. An earlier lapsing date can be specified by the consent-granting authority at the time of the severance decision.

Certificate for retained land

A consent-granting authority may also issue a certificate for the retained land (the other part of the parcel approved through the land division process) resulting from certain consents. This certificate shows that the retained land has “consent” status. 

If you would like to request a certificate for retained land, you must specify this in your consent application and provide a statement from a lawyer as part of your application. This statement must confirm that the land subject to the consent and the land to be retained, together, make up a complete parcel of land. 

Before you apply, you should consult with municipal staff and/or the consent-granting authority in your area. They will be able to tell you how to request a certificate for retained land and what information will need to be included as part of your application.

Certificate of cancellation

In some situations, the original consent granted for a parcel of land may no longer be wanted or needed. This could occur, for example, where a parcel created by consent may need to be widened to accommodate a driveway.  In these cases, the original consent may need to be cancelled. 

Owners can apply to the consent-granting authority for a certificate of cancellation for a parcel that was previously severed with a consent. It may even be the case that a consent-granting authority may require the owner to apply as a condition of approval. Once a certificate of cancellation is issued, the parcel would be treated as though the previous consent had not been given. This could mean that the parcel would merge with neighbouring lands that are owned by the same person. 

Before you apply, you should consult with municipal staff and/or the consent-granting authority in your area. They will be able to tell you how to apply for a certificate of cancellation and any other information you may need.

Get involved

If you are concerned about a severance application that may affect you, you should:

  • find out as much as possible about the application
  • discuss your concerns with the consent-granting authority
  • write to the consent-granting authority

If you have any concerns, make sure that you let council know about them early in the process. The consent-granting authority will then have time to consider the feedback you provided and may make changes before the land severance is approved.

Appeal rights

Appeals to the OLT, or a local appeal body if established by the municipality, can be made in three different ways:

  1. key participants (for example, applicants, the Province, public bodies, including First Nations, and utility providers) may appeal a consent-granting authority’s decision and any condition within 20 days of the notice of decision
  2. the applicant may appeal if no decision is made by the consent-granting authority within 90 days from the date of receipt of the application containing the prescribed information
  3. key participants (for example, applicants, the Province, public bodies, including First Nations, and utility providers)may appeal any changed conditions imposed by the consent-granting authority within 20 days after the notice of changed conditions has been given

Appeals must be filed with the consent-granting authority, accompanied by reasons for the appeal and the fee required by the OLT or local appeal body.

The powers of the Ontario Land Tribunal or a local appeal body if one is established

When a decision is appealed, the OLT or local appeal body may hold a hearing where you may have the chance to present your case. They can make any decision that the consent-granting authority could have made on the application.

The OLT or local appeal body also has the power to dismiss an appeal without holding a hearing. For more information, see section 6, Ontario Land Tribunal.

Appealing a planning decision is a serious matter. It can take time, effort and in some cases, money, for everyone involved.

The OLT or local appeal body must have regard to the local decision and make a decision based on the facts presented at a hearing.

Other approvals that may be required

In addition to the planning approvals and building permit which are needed for a building project, there are other permits and approvals that may be required for specific circumstances. For example, a septic system permit is required for a new septic system. In cottage areas, a permit may be required from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry before you can do any construction in the water (for example, a dock or boathouse with a solid foundation). Should your property be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, located in a heritage conservation district or subject to a heritage conservation easement (a legal agreement to protect heritage elements that applies to anyone who owns the land) you may require a separate heritage approval from the municipality or the Ontario Heritage Trust. 

Validation process 

Section 57 of the Planning Act provides for the validation (or legalization) of title for lands where there was a failure in the past to follow the subdivision control requirements of the Act (for example, through fraudulent activity, error or naivety of persons selling/buying).

Depending on where you live in the province, validations can be issued by either:

  • a municipality
  • a planning board
  • the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

To find the validation authority in your area, contact your municipal clerk, the secretary-treasurer of the planning board or your nearest Municipal Services Office.

A validation can be used in place of obtaining a consent to the contravening transfer (transfer that was made in breach of the Planning Act requirements) in certain situations, for example, where the landowners at the time of the contravention are not available to sign the new transfer documents.   

The validation allows the validation authority to consider each situation on its merits and decide whether a request to validate title should be supported. The validation authority may, as a condition to issuing the validation, impose conditions as it considers appropriate.

The considerations that need to be applied to each request to validate title to a piece of land are the same as the considerations that need to be given to a consent application.  The validation authority needs to:

  • have regard to provincial interests and the Planning Act’s land division criteria
  • ensure the validation is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and conforms, or does not conflict, with provincial plans
  • ensure the validation conforms with all applicable official plans
  • ensure the validation complies with any applicable zoning bylaw or zoning order   

Summary of the land severance process

  1. before an application is submitted, the applicant should consult with municipal staff or the consent-granting authority
  2. following the pre-consultation, a complete application is submitted to the consent-granting authority
  3. the consent-granting authority gives notice of the application and a public meeting may be held
  4. the consent-granting authority will make its decision to give either provisional consent or to refuse the application
  5. notice of decision is sent to the applicant and those requesting notification
  6. key participants may appeal to the OLT or local appeal body if one is established
  7. if an appeal is made, the OLT may dismiss the appeal without holding a hearing or will hold a hearing and make a decision
  8. if no appeal is made, when the conditions of provisional consent are satisfied, a certificate is issued and the lot can be transferred