Clearing Up Confusion: A Natural Garden Exemption

12 May 2019

Ms. T’s front yard garden contained native plants and wildflowers to attract pollinators. This type of garden landscaping, known as a “Natural Garden”, has environmental benefits and creates a habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The City’s Municipal Licensing & Standards Division (MLS) grants “Natural Garden Exemptions” for such spaces and had issued Ms. T an exemption for her garden for over ten years.

However, every year a neighbour complained about long grass and weeds in Ms. T’s garden and MLS always responded by sending Ms. T a warning letter, giving her the option of either trimming the grasses and plants or applying for a “Natural Garden Exemption”. Every year, Ms. T had to remind MLS about her exemption and ask them to send an expert to assess her natural garden.

Ms. T eventually wrote to MLS, asking why she had to go through this process every year and refusing to comply with the most recent warning letter. When she did not receive a response from MLS, she came to Ombudsman Toronto for help.

When we spoke with MLS, it agreed its system for handling complaints about Natural Gardens was flawed. MLS committed to revising staff procedures on Natural Garden exemptions and told us its new computer system will allow staff to better record and flag exemptions.

MLS also wrote to Ms. T to apologize and explain the steps it is taking to improve the process.

All names are changed to protect the privacy of complainants.