Nathalie Tinti, Partner Barriston LLP
45 Ann Street
Bracebridge, ON P1L 2A1
Question: Is my two story boat house legal?
Answer: Chances are, if you have a two story boat house it is located on either municipally owned land (likely an original shore road allowance) or land over which the Ministry of Natural Resources has jurisdiction (on the water). Generally, this does not become an issue until you wish to remodel or rebuild your boathouse. Most people believe that this remodel or rebuild is not an issue because the boathouse is “grandfathered” into compliance as a legal non-conforming structure, regardless of current building and zoning compliance. To some extent, this is true. However, when you go and apply for your building permit, you may find a few surprises.
If your boathouse is built on an original shore road allowance (“OSRA”), which is a road that lies between your land and the water, the municipality is within their legal rights to require you to apply to purchase the OSRA or remove your structure from the land. By virtue of past legislation, municipalities own all roads, whether open, closed or OSRAs, that are located within their municipality.
Question: Why would I want to purchase a road?
Answer: Purchase of an OSRA has many benefits. It improves the footprint of your land, and more importantly, will allow your boat house to be on property owned by you. Depending on the square footage of OSRA being purchased, this addition of land may also allow you to build a larger cottage in the future. Also, this will be the cheapest land you ever purchase in Muskoka! The cost per square foot of OSRAs has not, thankfully, kept up with the ever increasing cost of waterfront in Muskoka. However, it should be noted that the costs associated with any road allowance purchases are governed completely by the municipality in which they are located and therefore may change at any time.
Question: What if my boat house in on the water and not the OSRA?
Answer: If you are lucky enough to have a two story boat house with living quarters that is located on the water, not on the OSRA, you are required to either the lease or purchase the land that it sits on from MNR. The lease or the purchase can be accomplished fairly easily at a reasonable cost. Again, as the cost of this land is so reasonable, I highly recommend that you purchase it rather than rent it. One never knows when MNR may change its policy relating to these lands and as anyone knows, long term investment of ownership is always preferable to renting!