Toronto homeowner ordered to remove fake grass

A Toronto woman wants a city bylaw changed to allow homeowners to use artificial turf in their front yards.

Sangeeta Gounder and her husband had synthetic grass professionally installed in the front and back of their property three years ago.

She says it was a “great investment.”

“It was getting very difficult to keep a green, weed-free lawn,” Gounder told CBC Toronto outside her home in Scarborough.

The couple will soon be reverting back to real grass after receiving a violation notice in May.

A Toronto bylaw dictates that a “minimum of 75 per cent of the front yard must be soft landscaping.”

Artificial turf is considered a hard surface.

I was shocked,” Gounder says. “The kids play on it, the dogs play on it.”

Bylaw only enforced after a complaint

Gounder received the bylaw infraction notice after someone complained to the city, which says it only investigates when a call is made to 311.

“The bylaw officer told me it was purely a reactive situation,” Gounder says.

“I’ve never actually encountered anybody who didn’t like our lawn, so it was surprising to us that someone would complain.”

The city even gave her a “Beautiful Front Lawn Garden Award” last year.

It’s unknown how often complaints about artificial turf are lodged. The city doesn’t have a specific artificial turf service request.

“Someone could potentially call and it could be captured under property standards or a zoning related complaint. Both trigger an investigation,” says city spokesperson Lyne Kyle.

Gounder says that when she inquired about the violation, the bylaw officer told her the city was “concerned about drainage.”

“I didn’t think that would be a problem. There’s two feet of drainage under our turf because it was professionally installed,” she says.

But the city tells us artificial turf “does not absorb water as fast as it would through natural ground cover” and can increase flooding risks after heavy rainfall or snow melts.

Gounder says the bylaw officer also told her artificial grass “is permitted in back lawns but not in the front because it is displeasing to the eye.”

While she understands that sentiment when it comes to older iterations of artificial turf, the product installed on her property “is a different breed,” she says.

“The technology has come so far.”

‘It should be widely used and accepted’

Karen Stintz, a former city councillor and current CEO of Variety Village, has a personal connection to the issue.

She was ordered to remove her artificial turf in 2015, after she had already put her house up for sale.

Stintz never did, and the city never followed up.

However, when her house was sold in 2016, she said the purchasers noticed the bylaw infraction.

“So I had to pay them the equivalent of removing the turf and replacing it with sod. They took the money, but never did.”

Stintz says she wants the bylaw to be changed.

“(Artificial turf) should be widely used and accepted,” she says. “I don’t understand why the city would consider artificial grass to be hard surface. It’s water permeable. It’s not a paved surface like asphalt.”

Stintz pushed city hall to change the bylaw when she was a councillor but was unsuccessful.

“I know it continues to be widely utilized even across local [business improvement areas] and in the city boulevard, so it’s unclear why the city is choosing to go after homeowners.”

Not worth the fight, homeowner says

Homeowners who opt for artificial turf run the risk of a $1400 fine.

Gounder says she initially planned on fighting the infraction, but instead decided to comply with the bylaw.

To have the case heard, she would need to go before the city’s committee of adjustment, which would cost about $1800.

If one person on that panel disagrees, we would lose our claim and that money as well.”

So later this summer, she will be replacing her front lawn with grass.

“Although it breaks my heart to do it,” she says, “the city’s bylaw has kind of made it very hard for us.”

“I think there is better fish to fry in the city.”

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