About subdivisions

When you divide a piece of land into two or more parcels and offer one or more for sale, you are subdividing property, and the provisions of the Planning Act come into play.

If your proposal involves creating only a lot or two, you may seek approval for a "land severance". For more details, see section 5, Land severances.

The other means of subdividing land is to obtain approval of a plan of subdivision from the approval authority.

Subdivision approval ensures that:

  • the land is suitable for its proposed new use
  • the proposal conforms to the official plan and zoning in your community, as well as to provincial legislation and policies
  • you, your neighbours and your community are protected from developments which are inappropriate or may put an undue strain on community facilities, services or finances

Problems can result when large tracts of land are split into building lots without the benefit of a formal planning approval process. People have found out, usually too late, that the lots they have purchased are not on a registered plan. It may be that the water supply is unusable or the access road is not plowed or maintained. Other purchasers have found out that the ownership or title to their property is doubtful, making it difficult to sell.

Approval authority for plans of subdivision

The councils of some upper-tier, lower-tier and single-tier municipalities are the approval authorities for draft plans of subdivision. Upper-tier municipalities may further delegate the authority to approve plans of subdivision to their lower-tier municipalities. Municipalities may also delegate the authority to committees of council or appointed officers.

In all other areas, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is the approval authority but may delegate the authority to approve plans of subdivision to municipalities or planning boards in Northern Ontario.

To determine who approves plans of subdivision in your area, contact your municipal or planning board office.

A registered plan of subdivision

A registered plan of subdivision is a legal document that shows:

  • the exact surveyed boundaries and dimensions of lots on which houses or buildings are to be built
  • the location and width of streets
  • the sites of any schools, public facilities, or parks

The plan does not show specific building locations; the rules for locating buildings are set out in the zoning bylaw and can be shown on plans as part of site plan approval. (See section 3, Zoning bylaws)

The plan of subdivision must be:

  • surveyed by an Ontario land surveyor
  • in conformity with the official plan and with any county, regional or district plan as well as provincial policies
  • approved by the proper planning authority
  • registered with a Land Registry Office

A registered plan of subdivision creates new, separate parcels of land and can be legally used for the sale of lots. It should not be confused with "compiled plans" or "reference plans" which are used simply to describe parcels of land.

The process for subdividing

If you are thinking about subdividing your property, discuss your proposal first with municipal, planning board or Municipal Services Office, staff. They can tell you what information, including any special studies, you will need to provide and whether the official plan and/or zoning bylaw provide for your subdivision to be allowed or if further review as to its suitability is necessary.

Subdivision applications are made to the approval authority. This could be the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a municipality, or a planning board. You may be charged a fee for processing the application. To find out what the processing fee is in your area, contact the appropriate approval authority. Ministry, municipal or planning board staff will tell you about the approval authority in your area.

As an applicant, you are required to fill out a subdivision application form provided by the approval authority.

A typical application form contains both the information identified by minister’s regulation as well as other information required by the municipality. The more information provided, the less likely delays will occur in the review.

If an approval authority confirms that an application is incomplete and you, the applicant, disagree with the decision, you have 30 days to make a motion to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) for a determination on the matter. The OLT’s decision is final.

If you do not provide all the information identified by minister’s regulation and the official plan, the approval authority may refuse to accept or consider your application. The 120-day time frame for making a decision also does not start. When all the identified and, if applicable, additional information is received, then the 120-day time frame begins. You are encouraged to contact the appropriate approval authority if you need help in assessing what information is required.

The approval authority, or in some cases the municipality in which the proposal is located, must give notice of the application.

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

How applications for subdivision are evaluated

In considering a plan of subdivision, the approval authority evaluates the merits of the proposal against criteria such as:

  • conformity with the official plan and compatibility with neighbouring uses of land
  • suitability of proposal for affordable housing
  • 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, school sites
  • the need to ensure protection from potential flooding or other hazards

In deciding on the application, the approval authority 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 approval 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, Niagara Escarpment Plan, Greenbelt Plan, and Lake Simcoe Protection Plan).

Draft approval

Having considered your application, the approval authority may either "draft approve" or refuse your subdivision proposal.

The approval authority must provide a written notice of its decision within 15 days of its decision to the applicant and each person or public body that requested to be notified. When a notice of decision is given, a 20-day appeal period follows.

If your application is draft approved, you will be advised of the conditions that need to be met to obtain final approval and registration. Conditions of draft approval may include: road widenings, the naming of streets, parkland requirements, rezoning of the area to reflect the new uses in the subdivision, and other requirements. The draft approval may also establish a time frame within which the conditions must be satisfied or the draft approval lapses.

In most cases, the developer may be required to sign a subdivision agreement with the municipality or planning board to ensure that certain services such as sidewalks and roads are provided after the plan has been registered.

Draft approval amounts to a commitment to go ahead with the subdivision, if all the conditions of draft approval have been met prior to the lapsing date. Lots may be offered for sale after draft approval but can be sold only after the plan of subdivision has been registered.

Get involved

If you are concerned about a draft plan of subdivision that may affect you:

  • find out as much as possible about the draft plan
  • discuss your concerns with the approval authority
  • write to the approval authority

If you have any concerns, you should make sure that you let the approval authority know about them early in the process. The approval authority will then have time to consider your concerns and determine whether changes are warranted before the draft plan of subdivision is approved.

You should also make a written request if you want to be notified of any change to the conditions attached to a draft approval.

Your appeal rights

The OLT is an independent tribunal responsible for hearing appeals and deciding on a variety of contentious municipal matters. (See section 7, the Ontario Land Tribunal)

Appeals to the OLT can be made in four different ways:

  1. the applicant may appeal if no decision is made within 120 days from the date of receipt by the approval authority of the application containing the prescribed information and, if applicable, any additional information required by the approval authority under its official plan. (see subsection 51(34) of the Planning Act)
  2. the applicant, the minister, the municipality or planning board in which the proposed subdivision is located and a public body or an identified person that meets certain requirements, may appeal the authority's decision to draft approve the plan of subdivision, any of the related conditions or the lapsing provision within 20 days of the notice of decision. If the land is not located in a municipality or planning board area, then generally any person or public body may appeal. (see subsection 51(39) of the Planning Act)
  3. the applicant, the minister, the municipality or planning board in which the proposed subdivision is located, and a public body or an identified person that meets certain requirements, may appeal conditions of draft approval at any time before final approval is granted. If the land is not located in a municipality or planning board area, then generally any public body may appeal. (see subsection 51(43) of the Planning Act)
  4. the applicant, the minister, the municipality or planning board in which the proposed subdivision is located and a public body or an identified person that meets certain requirements, may appeal any changed conditions of draft approval imposed by the approval authority. If the land is not located in a municipality or planning board area, then generally any person or public body may appeal. (see subsection 51(48) of the Planning Act)

Appeals must be filed with the approval authority, accompanied by reasons for certain appeals, and the fee required by the OLT. Contact the approval authority for more information.

The powers of the Ontario Land Tribunal

When an appeal is made, the OLT may hold a hearing where the key participant who made the appeal and other parties, such as the applicant, municipality or planning board, will have the chance to present their case. The OLT can make any decision that the approval authority could have made on the application.

The OLT also has the power to dismiss an appeal without holding a hearing. (See section 6, Ontario Land Tribunal)

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

The OLT must have regard to the local decision and make its decision based on the facts presented. The decision should generally be limited to the information and material that were before the approval authority whose decision is appealed. New information and material can be introduced at a hearing. However, the OLT may, on its own initiative or on the motion of any party, give the approval authority 60 days to reconsider its decision and make a written submission if the new information could have materially affected the approval authority’s decision.

The OLT has the power to dismiss an appeal without holding a hearing in certain circumstances, such as if the appeal constitutes an abuse of process like repeating the submission of an application that has recently been dealt with by the municipality. An appeal may also be dismissed by the OLT if the application before it is substantially different from that which was before council at the time of council’s decision.

Registering a subdivision

When all conditions of the draft approval have been met, final approval is given and the plan of subdivision may be registered with a Land Registry Office. The developer may then go ahead with the sale of lots in the subdivision.

Considerable time may pass between draft approval and actual registration of the plan. However, the approval authority has the power to require that draft approval will lapse after three years. It also has the power to give a further extension of draft approval. When determining whether a draft approval should be extended, provincial policies and plans must be considered by the approval authority (minister, municipality or planning board) in the review process. The approval authority also has a one-time discretionary authority to reinstate draft approved plans of subdivision that have lapsed within the past five years, if certain conditions have been met.

If a plan of subdivision has been registered for eight years or more and does not meet the growth management objectives of provincial policies or plans, the local municipality is encouraged to use their authority under the Planning Act to treat the plan as not registered and, where appropriate, change official plan designations and zoning bylaw permissions.

Required services

Although many services for new subdivisions are not provided until well after registration, most municipalities insist that they be in place before occupants move into their new home. The applicant may be required to sign a detailed subdivision agreement, which is sometimes registered on the title of the property and legally binds future owners to its conditions.

Condominiums as a form of subdivision

Condominiums are a form of property ownership in which title to a unit, such as an individual apartment in a high-rise building, is held by an individual together with a share of the rest of the property, which is common to all owners.

Condominiums can involve a brand new development, or an existing rental building or complex which is converted to condominium ownership. They can apply to any type of residential building as well as commercial and industrial buildings.

A condominium plan is like a plan of subdivision in that it is a way of dividing property. Similarly, plans of condominium must be approved, or in some cases, granted an exemption from approval by an approval authority.

Generally, applications for approval of condominium descriptions are not subject to the requirements of giving notice of application . However, vacant land condominiums are subject to these requirements. The 20-day appeal period following the notice of decision applies.

Land lease communities

A land lease community home refers to a dwelling that is a permanent structure (for example, not a mobile home) where the owner of the dwelling pays rent to the landowner (a land lease community operator) to lease the lands on which the home sits.

Land lease communities may be developed through either the plan of subdivision process or, in certain circumstances, through site plan control. When a proposed land lease community development is approved through a plan of subdivision, leases of any duration are permitted. Outside of the Greenbelt Area, site plan control may be used to develop land lease communities with leases of up to 49 years.

Municipalities are responsible through their zoning by-law(s) for determining what, if any, locations in the community would be appropriate for life lease communities and to determine the type of approval that would be required (for example, plan of subdivision or site plan control).

Summary of the subdivision process

  1. before an application is submitted, the applicant should consult with municipal staff or the approval authority (if the municipality is not the approval authority)
  2. following the pre-consultation, a complete application is submitted to the approval authority
  3. the approval authority ensures notices of the application are given
  4. the approval authority will make its decision to either approve the draft plan of subdivision with conditions or refuse it
  5. notice of decision is sent to the applicant and those requesting notification
  6. certain key participants may appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT)
  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 and the applicant fulfills all conditions of draft approval prior to the lapsing date, the plan of subdivision receives final approval and may be registered
  9. once a plan of subdivision receives final approval and registration, lots can be sold and transferred