SIMCOE COUNTY — Are some municipal planning departments in rural Ontario making the province’s acute housing shortage even worse by effectively encouraging farmers to demolish surplus farmhouses dotting the landscape?
A southwestern Ontario farmer suggests it’s easier to tear down a “surplus dwelling” — usually a leftover farmhouse acquired as one farm buys another — rather than endure the cost and red tape of separating the home with a small yard for a future owner.
“I’m at wit’s end,” said the beef producer, speaking to Farmers Forum on condition of anonymity.
The operator said he bought a 200-acre farm property about nine years ago — about a mile away from his existing cow-calf operation. The land came with an 1800s farmhouse, currently rented out. Never interested in being a landlord, the farmer hopes to carve out the old house plus an acre of land — a combo worth maybe $500,000 in today’s market — to sell.
But he’s not allowed. The provincial planning act allows for repurposing of surplus dwellings — homes left over as farms consolidate and grow. But in this case, the farmer reports serious red tape in his way. The involved township, in Simcoe County, says he must first sever the original 100-acre farm — on which the house sits — from the current 200-acre parcel, the farmer complained.
That will cost him $2,000, plus thousands more in survey costs — before the municipality will even consider the severance application for another $2,000, he reports.
Then, as an added condition, he says, the municipality will require his lawyer to remerge the 200 acres as one parcel (minus the one-acre house) — effectively undoing what was just done, again at considerable cost. The farmer will then have 199 acres of farmland that is barred from all further building development and a separate one-acre property with a house.
Frustrated at the process, the farmer considered demolishing the home in front of media cameras, to draw attention to ironic pressure placed on farmers to rip down homes at a time when federal leaders are talking about a national housing shortage.
Adding to his consternation is the apparent deviation in policy from one municipality to another. He says a neighbouring township processes surplus home severances with a lot less fuss.
Toronto real estate lawyer and severance expert Sidney Troister called the scenario “moronic.”
He added that planners don’t understand title. “If the property is already merged, why unmerge, then merge them again. It would be far more sensible to sever off the surplus dwelling lot.”
On the other side of the province, North Dundas Township planning director Calvin Pol was surprised to hear of the farmer’s conundrum. “We’re more flexible out here,” said Pol, adding he’s never heard of making a landowner reimpose the original 100-acre farm parcel boundaries before handling the severance application on a surplus dwelling. “You already have the legal description, you have both deeds, why would I need another severance (on the farm)?” he asked.