city of Toronto bylaws

Toronto restaurants frustrated and confused after getting warnings from bylaw officers

Some Toronto restaurants have been getting warnings and fines from bylaw officers for their winterized patios, but many are confused as to exactly why.

Cat's Cradle on St. Clair West had already been dealing with the loss of income due to an 11 p.m. last call and a temporary ban on serving people indoors, just like every other restaurant and bar.

At least they finally thought they had found a solution to their ill-protected, uncomfortable patio with a heated covered option, but then a bylaw officer showed up saying it needed to be changed or they'd face a $10,000 fine.

"We do have a tiny street patio offered by the city, but nothing is allowed to be affixed and secured to the ground. Therefore, in this cold windy weather, we've already had a car hit our front patio, as well as the wind blow it four times into the street with the cars, and umbrellas for the rain also keep flying into the air," says owner Barbara Macphee.

"We have a small back patio, that we thought was a godsend in our desperate need. Back there we have an enclosed fence from most wind, which is also a permanent structure. And above we just put up a tarp to protect customers from the rain."

However, the permanent fencing structure that was to shield their customers from the elements is apparently a problem when it comes to bylaws.

Sorry, but we need to rant. We are a year old, family run small business. 👉🏼Covid attacked bars and restaurants causing us to close for 4 months. 👉🏼The next hit was telling us we have to stop selling at 11pm. 👉🏼Now on top of that, our indoor dining is closed. So we are REALLY struggling to hang on. It’s raining and freezing out. Our customers can barely sit and eat with the wind, rain and cold temperatures. 👉🏼We have a very small front patio from the city, which we've tried to use as safe as we can, but the fence has already blown down 4 times and umbrellas for the rain keep flying into traffic. The wind and rain make it impossible for customers comfort and safety. 👉🏼We have a small back patio, that we thought was a godsend in our desperate need. Back there we have an enclosed fence from the wind which is a permanent structure. And above we just put up a tarp to protect customers from the rain, since they are NOT ALLOWED INSIDE AT ALL. 👉🏼Today, a health inspector came in and told us he got a complaint, and if we don't take 75% of our permanent fencing down by tomorrow, he is issuing us a $10,000.00 fine. 👉🏼We are lucky to have barely survived phase one with very little help provided by the government. Most we've been rejected because we are so small and new. 👉🏼Please tell me I'm not crazy when I mention how hard this struggle and targeting bars and restaurants is. #corsoitaliatoronto #covid #patio #fine #toronto #supportsmallbusiness #savesmallbusiness

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"Recently, a health inspector came in and told us he got a complaint, and if we don't take down 75 per cent of our permanent fencing down by the next day, he is issuing us a $10,000 fine. He was gracious enough to give us a day to rectify the situation, he was supposed to issue us the fine right away," says Macphee.

"There are covered patios all around us, no airflow because everyone wants to trap the heat, and with nothing being done about it, because bylaw [officers] will only fine the business if someone has a complaint. Which doesn't seem fair either."

Macphee says Cat's Cradle is lucky to have survived this long, as additional costs like heating continue to add up while sales keep dropping, and that being slapped with a $10,000 fine would force them to close their doors.

They used the day grace period to remove 75 per cent of the fencing themselves with the help of customers.

"Across the street is a restaurant that is fully covered but is ignored by the city because no one complained. So how are we supposed to know what we can and can't do if rules are different for everyone apparently," continues Macphee.

"We can see right into the neighbours yard that's very unkempt so it's an ugly view. We have not talked to the neighbours about this yet so their piece of fence is still left up. We can't be asked to ask them to take it down for our air flow. And I hope the city doesn't expect that much more from us."

The city really wants us closed. Order to take tent down, come on...... @mayorjohntory said you will support us? How can one have a dining patio without protection form the elements? Cafeto until Nov 15? How? I tried to get our politicians involved but seemed like it was always a uphill battle that they were not interested in. Only lip service to saying they would approve anything for ViBo. The city had sent 5 staffers out to ViBo in the past week and a half to inspect discuss and ask us to take down the tent which helps promote safe dining out doors which generates tax money, employ’s people and helps pay the taxes and bills ViBo. This means we will have to lay off servers and cooks. I guess this is what the mayor wants. Why not let us do as much as we can to survive? #gooduseofyourtaxes

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At ViBo, it's a similar story of a long and messy road to erecting a patio at all with a ton of snarls in the CafeTO system, and an even bumpier process of winterizing.

Owner Luca D'Aprile estimates the business has lost $30,000 to $60,000 as a result of delays in the approval process and a lack of communication.

"We applied the first day then we waited. There was minimal to no communication from the program about what ViBo would be able to do or not do," says D'Aprile. "We built a nice wooden deck patio. See our Instagram. The city said I am not supposed to have that."

D'Aprile says he reached out to Councillor Mark Grimes, the Mayor and provincial members of parliament for guidance and assistance, and was never met with anything more than lip service.

Ok, so don’t say anything to the Mayor, but we will be open at least until Sunday...... call to book on our Safe, heated, socially distanced , patio. Or call for curbside pick up . Hope we do not get any more complaints called into 311 from our neighbours. (The reason for bylaw inforcers showed up) . Take advantage of our #curbside pick up and 20% off our #winelist . Click the link in our bio to view our menu and place your #order today or visit #millegrazie . . . #italian #etobicoke #italianfood #food #etobicokeeats #foodie #foodporn #seafoodlover #fish #love #bread #takeout #delicious #instafood #salad #dinner #etobicoke #healthyfood #diningroom #winelover #pasta #restaurant #dining #wine #winetasting

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"We decided to put a tent on our patio. Using it with two sides up, we have two patio heaters as well. Our guests love what we built, and they love the comfort," says D'Aprile.

"Someone called 311 and complained about our heaters under our tent. Two sides open. Fire marshal said it was not ideal but as our tent is fire retardant material, we are ok to use it as is with the heaters. The inspectors said they would base their decision off the fire marshal. They gave me a notice to comply with fire services and to operate the tent with two sides up."

After another 311 call, another bylaw officer showed up, but contradicting the previous inspectors said the patio would have to be taken down completely.

"They are now telling me that tents are allowed on private property used with two sides up, not on public property. Our patio is on Green P parking spots," explains D'Aprile.

"A supervisor from the bylaw enforcement office, told me they are in the works for a winter patio program which may include tents. Presently, I have to decide if we will take the tent down, and close out the patio altogether. We are a more full service dining resto, so eating a main dish in 5 to 10 degree weather does not look fruitful."

The other option is to leave the patio up and risk getting fined. They're honouring current bookings, but past that point D'Aprile says the future of any kind of patio service being available at ViBo is murky for the foreseeable future because of the increasingly frustrating situation.

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