About zoning bylaws

A zoning bylaw controls the use of land in your community. It states exactly:

  • how land may be used
  • where buildings and other structures can be located
  • the types of buildings that are permitted and how they may be used
  • the lot sizes and dimensions, parking requirements, building heights and densities (the number of people, jobs and building floor area per hectare), and setbacks from the street

An official plan sets out your municipality’s general policies for future land use. Zoning bylaws put the plan into effect and provide for its day-to-day administration. They contain specific requirements that are legally enforceable. Construction or new development that doesn’t comply with a zoning bylaw is not allowed, and the municipality will refuse to issue a building permit.

Many municipalities have a comprehensive zoning bylaw that divides the municipality into different land use zones, with detailed maps. The bylaw specifies the permitted uses (for example, commercial or residential) and the required standards (for example, building size and location) in each zone.

Some rural municipalities may have a free-standing zoning bylaw that covers only a specific property that an owner proposes to develop.

Why you need a zoning bylaw

A zoning bylaw:

  • implements the objectives and policies of a municipality’s official plan (See section 2, Official plans)
  • provides a legal and precise way of managing land use and future development
  • in addition to the official plan, protects you from conflicting and possibly dangerous land uses in your community

Zoning bylaw amendments

If you want to use or develop your property in a way that is not allowed by the zoning bylaw, you may apply for a zoning change, also known as a zoning bylaw amendment or a rezoning. Council can consider a change only if the new use is allowed by the official plan.

You may not be able to apply for a rezoning if your municipality passed a new comprehensive zoning bylaw within the past two years. Similarly, you may not be able to apply for a change to a community planning permit bylaw within five years of it being passed (see the “Community planning permit bylaw” section below). However, you would be allowed to apply for a change to the zoning bylaw or community planning permit bylaw if council passes a resolution to allow the application.

Before you set out to apply for a rezoning, you should talk to your municipal planning staff to determine if your application can be made and for advice and information.

If you are able to apply for a rezoning, you must complete an application form which requires information identified by the minister and the municipality. Most municipalities require that you pay an application fee.

If local council refuses your zoning application, or if it does not make a decision within 90 days of the receipt of the complete application and fee, you may be able to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). Note that council has 120, not 90, days to make a decision on a zoning application if it was submitted to the municipality on the same day as a request for a related official plan amendment.

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

How a zoning bylaw is passed

Before council passes a zoning bylaw, it must first give as much information as possible to the public. There must also be at least one public meeting before a bylaw is passed and everyone who attends the meeting must have a chance to speak. Notice of this meeting is given at least 20 days in advance, either through local newspapers or by mail and posted notice.

An open house information session is also required for a bylaw that is being brought into conformity with an official plan which has been updated as part of an official plan update and for a community planning permit bylaw. A municipality is required to update its zoning bylaws no less than three years after the approval of an official plan update.

The Planning Act encourages early involvement and the use of mediation techniques to resolve any conflicts. Share your views early in the planning process by making a verbal presentation at the public meeting or a written submission to council before it passes the bylaw. If you don’t, you are not entitled to appeal the bylaw after it is passed.

Your local council may also consult with interested agencies before it makes a decision. After hearing everyone’s concerns, council may decide to pass, change or reject the proposed bylaw. If it decides to make some changes, it may also decide to hold another public meeting.

Once council has passed the bylaw, it must give notice of the bylaw’s passing within 15 days. Any person or public body that meets certain requirements may, not later than 20 days after the notice of the passing of the bylaw is given, appeal to the OLT by filing a notice of appeal with the municipal clerk, accompanied by the fee required by the OLT

How zoning bylaws are evaluated

When it considers a zoning bylaw, the council evaluates it against criteria such as:

  • conformity with the official plan and compatibility with adjacent 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 risk of flooding

When council considers a zoning bylaw, its decision shall be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) issued under the Planning Act. This means that a council must ensure that the policies of the PPS 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 council 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)

Zoning bylaws must also conform with any applicable provincial plan. Provincial plans provide direction for specific geographic areas and address environmental, growth management and economic issues. More information on provincial plans can be found at: ontario.ca/mmah.

Get involved

If you have concerns about a proposed zoning bylaw or amendment that may affect you, you should:

  • find out as much as possible about the proposed bylaw and how it affects your property
  • go to any information sessions, including open houses and public meetings, to give your opinions
  • discuss the proposal with municipal staff and council members
  • make a written submission to council

If you have any concerns, you should make sure that you let council know about them early in the process. Council will then have time to consider your feedback and may make changes before the bylaw is passed.

Your appeal rights

A person or a public body who makes verbal presentations at a public meeting or submits written submissions prior to the passing of a zoning bylaw or amendment may appeal a council’s decision, with some exceptions (see below).

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

  1. the applicant, the minister and any person or public body who made verbal presentations at a public meeting or verbal presentations before the bylaw was passed, may appeal the council’s passage of a zoning bylaw to the OLT within 20 days from the date the notice of the passage of the bylaw is given (see subsection 34(19) of the Planning Act). The notice of appeal should be filed with the municipal clerk and must be accompanied by written reasons and the fee required by the OLT
  2. the applicant and the minister may appeal to the OLT if the council refuses or fails to act on an application to rezone the lands within the timeframe set out in the Planning Act (see subsection 34(11) of the Planning Act). The notice of appeal should be filed with the municipal clerk, accompanied by the fee required by the OLT

If you intend to argue that an official plan or zoning bylaw is inconsistent with a policy statement issued under the Planning Act, fails to conform with or conflicts with a provincial plan or fails to conform with an applicable official plan, the notice of appeal must also explain how the official plan or zoning bylaw is inconsistent with, fails to conform with or conflicts with the policy statement, provincial plan, or the official plan.

Limitations on appeals

Generally, appeals are not permitted in the following circumstances:

  • refusals or failure to make a decision within the timeframe set out in the Planning Act (also known as “non-decision”) on proposed amendments that would:
    • implement an alteration to the boundary of an "area of settlement" or the establishment of a new "area of settlement"
    • remove land from "an area of employment", if appropriate official plan policies are in place
    • permit a renewable energy undertaking such as wind, solar and hydroelectric projects
  • bylaws related to additional residential units
  • bylaws passed to implement inclusionary zoning (where new housing developments of 10 units or more need to include affordable housing units), as well as proposed amendments that would change or repeal bylaws implementing inclusionary zoning
  • bylaws passed to put in place appropriate densities (number of people, jobs and building floor area per hectare) that make sense for a protected major transit station area (lands around stations/stops for rail, subway and certain other forms of transit that are protected by official plan policies) if appropriate official plan policies are in place
  • community planning permit bylaws passed to implement a community planning permit system (CPPS) that has been required by a minister’s order

When an appeal is made

In cases of appeal, if a settlement has not already been reached, the OLT will hold a case management conference to discuss opportunities for settlement, such as mediation, and may hold a hearing. If a hearing is required, you may be given the chance to present your case.

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

The tribunal must have regard to the local decision and make its decision based on the facts presented at a hearing.

The tribunal has authority to make a final decision on the matter and will seek to make the “best” planning decision while making sure its decisions are consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and conform with any applicable provincial plans and municipal official plans. In making its decision, the OLT can allow or dismiss your appeal and repeal or amend the bylaw.

Declaration of provincial interest

At least 30 days before a hearing is held, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing can declare that a zoning matter before the OLT may adversely affect a provincial interest. If this happens, after the hearing is held and the tribunal renders a decision as usual, the Lieutenant Governor in Council (the Cabinet) may confirm, vary or rescind the tribunal’s decision on the matter.

Power to dismiss

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.

Summary of the zoning bylaw process

  1. council initiates the process for the zoning bylaw
  2. the bylaw is prepared. Following this, notice and information is provided to the public. Other agencies may also be consulted
  3. a public meeting is held
  4. council makes a decision to pass the bylaw
  5. council gives notice of its decision
  6. possible appeal to the OLT: With some restrictions, any qualifying person or public body may appeal the decision to the OLT
  7. if there are no appeals, the zoning bylaw is effective on the date council passes the bylaw
  8. the OLT may dismiss the appeal without holding a hearing or will hold a hearing and make a final decision except when a provincial interest is declared

Minor variances

If your proposed change doesn’t conform exactly to the zoning bylaw, but follows its general intent, you can apply for a minor variance. For example, you might want to locate something on your property, but you are unable to meet the minimum setback requirements because of the shape of your lot. Your municipality may have a bylaw that sets out local criteria to further clarify what constitutes a minor variance in your community.

To obtain a minor variance, you will have to apply to your local committee of adjustment appointed by council to deal with minor problems in meeting bylaw standards. Your application should explain how your proposed variance is minor in nature and why it is needed.

The committee of adjustment will hold a hearing and decide on your application. Anyone who disagrees with the decision has 20 days to appeal to the OLT or, if one is established by the municipality, a local appeal body. The appeal should be filed with the secretary-treasurer of the committee. The secretary-treasurer will tell you who has the authority to hear such appeals in your area. You should set out the reasons supporting the objection and pay the fee required by the OLT/local appeal body.

The OLT or local appeal body has the power to dismiss your appeal without holding a hearing. (See section 7, the Ontario Land Tribunal)

The OLT or local appeal body can allow or dismiss your appeal, or amend the application. A minor variance does not change a zoning bylaw. It simply excuses you from a specific requirement of the bylaw and allows you to obtain a building permit.

Other types of bylaws

There are several types of special bylaws that can be used to control land use:

Community planning permit bylaws

The community planning permit system (CPPS) is a discretionary land use planning tool that combines zoning, site plan and minor variance processes into one application and approval process. The CPPS has three components:

  1. a policy basis in the official plan
  2. an implementing community planning permit bylaw
  3. a community planning permit that can be issued as a planning approval

Community planning permit bylaws must identify and define a list of permitted uses. The bylaws can also set out discretionary uses that may be permitted if specified criteria outlined in the bylaw are met.

Any interested party can appeal a community planning permit bylaw to the OLT when the bylaw is being established (unless the CPPS has been required to be established by minister’s order), provided they have participated during its development. Once the CPPS is established and in effect, only the applicant has the right to appeal a decision on a community planning permit application to the OLT.

Holding bylaws

Holding bylaws allow future uses for land or buildings but delay development until, for example, local services, such as roads, are in place. Your municipality cannot use these bylaws unless it has holding policies in its official plan.

Interim control bylaws

Interim control bylaws put a temporary freeze on some land uses while the municipality is studying or reviewing its policies. The freeze can be imposed for only a year, with a maximum extension of another year.

There is no ability to appeal an interim control bylaw when it is first passed, however, an extension to a bylaw may be appealed.

The Planning Act provides that an interim control bylaw remains in effect past the two-year period if the new zoning bylaw which replaces the interim control bylaw is appealed to the OLT.

Temporary use bylaws

Temporary use bylaws zone land or buildings for specific uses for a maximum period of three years at a time, with more extensions possible. When the temporary use of a garden suite (such as a one-unit detached residential structure containing bathroom and kitchen facilities that is additional to an existing structure and that is designed to be portable) is authorized, the temporary bylaw may allow it for a period not exceeding 20 years, with the possibility of extensions of not more than to 3 years at a time.

Community benefits charges

Community benefits charges allow single and lower-tier municipalities to collect funds from new developments or redevelopments to cover the capital costs of community services needed because of the community’s growth. These services include libraries, long-term care, parkland development (like playgrounds), public health and recreation centres, child care, affordable housing and shelters.  

If a municipality passes a community benefits charge by-law, the charge will only apply to buildings that are five or more storeys and have 10 or more residential units. The maximum charge payable in any instance cannot exceed four percent of the value of land being developed.

The tool, which came into effect September 18, 2020, can be used with development charges and parkland dedication to enable growth to pay for growth, so that municipalities can provide important local services that growing communities need. Community benefits charges increase transparency and accountability making the costs of building housing in Ontario more predictable.  Community benefits charges replace the former section 37 density bonusing provisions in the Planning Act, subject to transition rules.

Inclusionary zoning

Inclusionary zoning is a tool that municipalities may use to address their community’s affordable housing needs by requiring that new housing developments of 10 units or more need to include affordable housing units. Inclusionary zoning can only be used in protected major transit station areas (lands around stations/stops for rail, subway and certain other forms of transit that are protected by official plan policies ), areas where the community planning permit system is required or as set out by the minister. When official plan policies related to inclusionary zoning and zoning bylaws are in place, municipalities can require affordable housing units to be included in residential developments. These units would need to be maintained as affordable over a period of time specified by the municipality. 

Site plan control bylaws

Site plan control bylaws are not zoning bylaws. They are used to establish areas where site plan control will be applied. These areas must be described in the official plan.

Site plan control is used to ensure that:

  • developments are built and maintained in the way that council approved
  • new developments meet certain standards of quality and appearance
  • there is safe and easy access for pedestrians and vehicles
  • the appearance and design features of buildings, and their sustainable design, are satisfactory
  • there is adequate landscaping and drainage
  • nearby properties are protected from incompatible development

As a condition of site plan approval, municipalities may require the owner provide land for road widening and public transit rights-of-way. Before municipalities can exercise this power, the road widening and public transit rights-of-way must be shown or described in the official plan.

Minister’s zoning orders

The Planning Act gives the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the authority to control the use of any land in the province. Zoning orders can be used to protect a provincial interest or to help overcome potential barriers or delays to critical projects. If there is a conflict between a minister’s zoning order and a municipal bylaw, the minister’s zoning order (MZO) prevails. The municipal bylaw remains in effect in all other respects.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing stated publicly that he expects that before a City Council requests an MZO, they do their due diligence which includes:

  • consulting in their communities
  • engaging with the conservation authority responsible for regulating the lands on which the zoning order is requested
  • engaging with potentially affected Indigenous communities

The minister has also publicly stated that he expects that City Council requests for a zoning order include a supporting Council resolution. As Council meetings are generally open to the public, this expectation is meant to ensure public awareness of a request being made for the minister to consider making a zoning order.

Other approvals that may be required

In addition to the planning approvals and building permits that are needed for a building project, there are other permits and approvals that may be required in specific circumstances. For example, a septic tank 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). If your property is 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.