Garage Permits: The Saga Continues

So, remember how a tree fell on my garage?

Yeah, about that:

Councillor Davis,

We are writing to you today to express our disappointment and frustration with an ongoing permit issue we have had, and our interactions with City Hall.

We are new home owners in the East York area; we have lived here for just over a year. Late in September of 2007, a neighbor’s tree fell over, landing on our detached garage. The garage was effectively destroyed, and we have been trying since October of last year to obtain permits to demolish and re-build the garage exactly as it was.

In our initial visits to City Hall we were informed by the permit-issuing department that we needed to supply plans, so we hired a contractor who supplied us with plans to use.On subsequent visits, we were then told that we needed detailed information on the materials and existing foundation.After several attempts to provide this information to the satisfaction of city officials, our original contractor withdrew stating that he did not expect to be able to find his way through the permit process in a reasonable amount of time.

We found a new contractor in November who advised us to wait until Spring of 2008 to rebuild as he would not be able to work once it began to snow.

In April 2008 our contractor went to the Building Permits Department of City Hall with extensive plans and building material details but was told he needed a site map and survey. We provided him with the survey of our property from 1976. He was told that the City had no record of our garage and that it was built illegally, despite the fact that the garage appears on the 1976 survey taken by the City of Toronto. We were then informed that there now exists a by-law prohibiting more than thirty-five percent of our property to be roofed – if we are to rebuild the garage on the existing undamaged foundation then we would be exceeding this amount. A building permit was not issued and we were told to contact the Building Inspectors to deem our garage unsafe so that we could then demolish and rebuild it.

Our initial contact with the Building Inspectors resulted in no action; they referred us back to the Permits Department, insisting that this was not their area, and that being issued a permit in these instances was entirely routine. After contacting the Permits Department again we were informed that the tree falling on our garage was classified as an “Act of God” and it was the responsibilities of the Building Inspectors. So after contacting the Building Inspectors again and referring to it specifically as an act of god, the inspection was performed.

After the garage was inspected we did not receive any information for two weeks. We were then informed that because we had the side of the garage propped up to keep it from falling over it was not considered an imminent danger. Therefore the Building Inspectors could not issue a demolition order, and that in order for such a thing to be issued, we would need to hire an engineer (at a cost, we were told, of approximately $500) to certify that our our garage is unsafe.

Our garage is currently 20 degrees from true and being propped up to keep it from falling over. We have once again been informed to return to the Permit Division and request a building permit, though it has now been suggested that we do so with a stern voice. No joke, that is the latest suggestion we’ve been given; that the next thing we should try is to yell at City of Toronto desk staff, in the hope that they will relent and give us permission to tear down our crushed one-car garage.

The bureaucracy, the run-around we have been dealing with trying to rebuild a garage that is obviously unsafe is astounding, and the City has made it essentially impossible for us to do things their way. While we appreciate that permits are in place to ensure that buildings are safely constructed to code, we have spent dozens of hours over the course of nine months in repeated attempts to comply with the requests of the Building Division, to do this entirely above-board, and in a few weeks it will be an entire calendar year since we started this process, when our garage was destroyed by a tree that the City of Toronto, ironically, would not allow our neighbors to remove some years ago.

The City of Toronto has, despite ostensible ownership of the tree that caused the damage and the authority to determine the legal status of our garage, taken no responsibility for the cleanup, or for providing us with the least hint of how to proceed. For the last nine months, we’ve looked out our rear window at a destroyed garage that the City has not permitted us to demolish and replace; it gives us no confidence that our tax dollars are being well-spent, or that following the rules and processes we have followed assiduously thus far is the right approach.

We would like, I think reasonably, to be able to tear down and rebuild our garage before the next snowfall. Our circumstances cannot possibly be unique, and we would like to know what next steps we can take to make sure this happens.

Pictures of the tree before it was removed, and the state of the garage now, are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoye/sets/72157605804868343/

We look forward to your reply,

Michael Hoye and Arlene Chan,
134 Woodmount Avenue, Toronto
(posted and e-mailed)

Just to be clear, I’ve got no problem paying taxes; bridges, roads, sewers, fire trucks, clean-running-water, network effects and not dying in substandard-building cave-ins, I like those things just fine. But this is absurd.

4 Comments

  1. Amos
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    If you want them to take notice and/or initiative, just rebuild the thing without a permit. Then cower as the Eye of TOron swivels in your direction and a crew of fervent, orcish city employees led by a lawyer born out of a sac in the ground raze your new garage, loot your bank account, and steal your precioussss soul leaving you a bitter wreck of a man.

  2. mhoye
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    That would at least provide some tinge of heroism to my efforts.

  3. Sine Nomine
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Mr. Hoye,

    Is the garage far enough from the house that another Act of God (lightning

    strike) setting it on fire would NOT destroy the house??

    Good Luck

    Sine Nomine

  4. Mike Hoye
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, our quite-nice neighbors have a shed that is in the space it would fall into if it collapsed, on fire or no.

    Depending on how this plays out we _might_ be facing a completely unforseen and surprisingly-tightly-marshalled termite infestation, but hopefully not?