A Gardener's Map of Ottawa

An interactive map showing Garden Centres, Landscape Material Suppliers and Public Gardens throught the Ottawa Valley

Building Code and Bylaws in Landscaping

While bylaws and building codes are not the favourite things of many people, ensuring that you are working within them before starting a landscaping project can save you a great deal of time, money and frustration in the long run. If you are engaging in any construction, or are changing your property grading you need to be especially aware of the restrictions, since these can often lead to complaints and are usually quite expensive to bring into conformance after the fact.

The headings for each of the bylaws are links to the related City of Ottawa page where you can find more information and the actual bylaw.

A summary of the most commonly referenced bylaws in the city can be found here

Ontario Building Code

The Ontario building Code requirements come into force whenever you are constructing a building. The definition of a building under the OBC is any floor, wall or roof which exceeds 10 square meters in area. There is also a provision which states that any retaining wall (a wall supporting a change in grade) over 1 meter in height which is adjacent to a property line or an access to an entrance (to your home) qualifies as a building for the purpose of obtaining a permit. Any time that you are adding a structural attachment to your house, such as attaching a ledger board for a deck, you will need to conform to the OBC since the area of the house will then be included in the area calculation which defines your deck as a building.

If your project falls under any of these definitions are required to obtain a building permit before proceeding with any work.

The City of Ottawa website offers a good overview of the requirements of small projects and a checklist for homeowners for the entire process here.

City of Ottawa Bylaws

There are several bylaws which you should be aware of and while I have listed the ones which most often impact landscaping below, if you are at all in doubt you should still talk to the City of Ottawa or the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. It is much less difficult and expensive to do things right in the first place than to have to change them after the fact.

Fencing Bylaw

In most cases back and side yard fence heights for residential properties are restricted to a maximum height of 213cm, or seven feet. Front yard fence heights are restricted to a height of 1m. Fences may not be of sharp materials, including chicken wire and may not be electrified. The front of the fence is to face neighboring properties or the street. These height restrictions do not apply to hedges or other plant material.

There are provisions for some portions of your fence to exceed 213cm in height. Gates may extend 30cm above the top of the fence, archways over gates may extend 37cm above the top of the fence and decorative caps on the tops of posts may extend 15cm.

Corner Sight Triangles

This is important for home owners on corner lots. There is a 75cm restriction in the height of fencing and vegetation on the front corner of your lot. This is to ensure that drivers approaching the corner have a clear line of sight for safety reasons. The triangle which falls under this restriction is created by measuring 6m along your property line in each direction from the corner point and then connecting the closed side of the triangle. There is an illustration of this on the City of Ottawa site. You should also note that your actual property line is usually set well back from the street, so this area is likely to contain a significant portion of your front yard. There is an exception for allowing chain link fencing within this corner, and if you are considering a wrought iron style of fence I would suggest that if you spoke with the city first you can probably receive permission to continue a 1m high fence into this area.

Pool Enclosure Bylaw

All swimming pools, hot tubs and water gardens over 60 cm (2') deep are required to be provided with an enclosure. In the case of pools and ponds a fence with a minimum 1.5 m (5') height is required.  In the case of hot tubs an approved, lockable cover is now acceptable under the updated bylaw.

Detailed provisions, including fence construction, gate swing, self closing and locking requirements and acceptable fencing materials are included in the bylaw.


You are not permitted to relocate or build a new driveway without a permit from the city. All new driveways are to have a minimum width of 2.4m and a maximum width of 9m or one half of the width of the front of you property.

The maximum allowed slope of a driveway is 6%.

Accessory Buildings

Sheds, pool houses, play structures, etcetera.

There are a set of guidelines within the bylaws which apply specifically to accessory buildings. These apply even to buildings for which you are not required to obtain a building permit for.

Only two accessory buildings are permitted on any lot.

The total permitted coverage of any yard is a maximum of 50% of the total yard area. This is calculated based on the outline of the building's walls, rather than the outline of the roof.

The maximum height of any accessory building is 4.5m.

For most residential zones accessory buildings are permitted to be as close as 60cm (2') to the back or side property line. If you are on a corner lot the distance from the property line nearest the street to any building is to be 1.2m (4') or more. Unlike houses, where the setback is measured from the foundation, for accessory buildings the measurement is taken from whichever portion of the building in closest to the property line. In most cases this will be the eaves of the roof.

Play structures, above ground pools, hot tubs, and pools and hot tubs within enclosures are to be set back from the property line by the height of the structure. For play structures this height is to be measured from the highest point that is designed to be a surface to stand on.

All accessory structures, with the exception of hot tubs are required to be 1.2m (4') from any other building, including your house.

Grading and Surface Water Drainage

You are not permitted to alter the grading of your property in a way which will direct surface water onto your neighbour's property, or that will impede the designated drainage patterns of your neighborhood. It is also not permitted for you to direct your downspouts toward a neighbor's property.

Installing a drain pipe at the back or side of your property and burying it to bring your grade up is also not permitted.

If you are constructing any building, porch or deck within 4' of a property line you will be required to submit a grading plan to the city for approval.

Urban Tree Conservation Bylaw

This bylaw outlines the protection of trees on properties over one hectare and of 'distinctive' trees on private and residential properties less than one hectare in area.

The provision which will effect most homeowners is the requirement that city approval must be obtained prior to the removal on a tree with a trunk diameter of 50cm or more at a height of 120cm from the ground.

The application process for obtaining a tree permit is outlined within the bylaw itself.


While not specifically a bylaw isue, easements are common and can significantly impact your plants. You can find easements indicated on your legal survey, which you generally receive a copy of when you purchase your home. They provide access to or over your property to the stipulated individuals, for the stipulated reasons. These are most common when you have utilities at the back or side of your property which will require maintenance or, in the case of town homes or semi detached houses they permit access across your property for neighboring homeowners. Usually you are permitted to build a fence crossing these areas, as long as you provide a gate for access. In most cases you are not permitted to construct a building or a swimming pool within these areas.

Shorelines and Floodplains

If your property abuts or includes a natural body of water such as a stream, river or lake, or is located within a designated flood plane you should contact the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority before proceeding with any work. Ideally you should contact them early in the planning phase to determine if there are any restrictions which will impact the work that you would like to carry out. In my experience they are more than happy to help, as long as you come to them first. They also have a great deal of information available on their website and at their offices at 3889 Rideau Valley Dr, just off of Prince of Wales Dr.

Outdoor Fireplaces

Outdoor wood fires, even those in fireplaces, are not permitted in urban, and most suburban, areas of Ottawa. If you are in a suburban or rural area please refer to the bylaw and the attached maps on the City of Ottawa website to determine what the restrictions are in your particular area. If you are permitted to have an outdoor wood fire in your area you are still required to obtain a burn permit from the fire department annually.

Natural gas and propane fire features, which do not spark or smoke, are permitted within the city, as long as a series of criteria are met. The fire feature needs to meet CSA standards which should be listed on the product when you purchase it. It may not exceed 1m in size in any direction. It must be located a minimum of 5m from any building, hedge, fence or overhead wiring, or any other combustible material. And finally it must be placed on a non-combustible surface. Even if you meet all of these criteria, please refer to the city of Ottawa website prior to investing in a unit to ensure that you don't encounter any issues specific to your area.

City of Ottawa Emap

Another very useful resource provided by the City of Ottawa is the emap. This is a digital map which has individual lots marked, provides zoning information and includes several years of aerial photographs.

You can find details of how to find your zone and to check for other information here.


50 Ideals
for Sustainable Landscapes

#10 Keep Your Distance
One of the primary stressors for mature urban trees is damage to roots from excavation or soil compaction. If you have a tree that you will be working around, keep any equipment or excavation back 12" for every 1" of the trunk diameter.
For example, if you have a mature tree with a trunk diameter of 18”, install a construction fence 18' out from the trunk in each direction and don't drive or work in this area or use it for storing materials or excavated soil.
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