July 17, 2020

Permit Problems with Tree Pirate Ships & Tree Boats in Toronto Backyards


It is summer and time for the annual City versus Summer Fun story which this year comes from Toronto. This story by CBC’s  Katerina Georgieva  describes what happened when John Konstantinidis, who usually works seven days a week in his business Pita Choice was home during the pandemic. A resourceful man who likes to keep busy, Mr. Konstantinidis decided to build a pirate ship in his Toronto backyard. The pirate ship actually had a swimming tank  in it as well, which in the end proved to be problematic.

As these things go, one person’s backyard pirate ship is another neighbour’s eyesore and sure enough the City of Toronto bylaw officers had a complaint and had found a non-conforming element with the newly constructed vessel~the pool was too close to the back boundary of the property, and needed to be moved one meter into the middle of the yard.

When you have spent months putting together a structure for your kids dismantling it quickly to comply with civic regulation was not an easy task. There had been no pool permit issued; that is a  Toronto requirement for  building pools in pirate ships too.

The City’s email notice regarding the pirate ship and pool stated: “For public safety, a pool such as this one requires a pool permit which ensures the pool is properly fenced in. Given the size of the structure, it also requires a building permit.”

While Mr. Konstantinidis has already started moving his pirate ship and pool, he also contacted Torontonian John Alpeza who in 2016 built a $30,000 elaborate boat-like treehouse in his backyard.  Mr. Alpeza also was asked to take his unpermitted structure down and was so insistent he went to the Ontario Municipal Board  (OMB) for a final decision. 

Surprisingly the OMB ruled that the Alpeza boat treehouse was an ancillary (or secondary) building on the site.


Since the main issue was the overlooking of the boat treehouse into neighbours’ backyards, the height was to be lowered to 4.5 meters ( a change of .65 meters) and the setback from the property line also minorly changed. Mr. Alpeza had to install a new fence on the property line and complete all the work in five months.

It had cost Mr. Alpeza about $15,000 to pay for plans and studies to go to the Ontario Municipal Board so that his boat treehouse could remain. Mr. Konstandinidis  decided that moving his structure was probably the easier way to comply, and acknowledged that in any future pirate boat builds in his backyard, he would call the city first.

Here’s a video of the Konstadinidis pirate ship, as well as a video from 2016 of  the Alpeza Boat Treehouse.



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  1. The first house I ever built was 15 feet up in the trees. I was twelve years old at the time. The floor was a smashed up sheet of plywood supported by scrap 2×4’s nailed to Jack Pine trees on the four corners. The trees swayed in different directions in the breeze which caused the boards to speak in loud groans with the sounds of nails being pulled out of wood. The walls were drafty, the roof leaky in the rain. All those things didn’t really matter to me because I had my own place in the trees with song birds and chipmunks. A home of my own where I spent many wonderful summer days doing absolutely nothing.
    One day a water spout came across the lake and by the time it reached our cabin it was a full blown tornado. The force of winds toppled most of the trees on our land except for the four Jack Pines held together by my treehouse, the roof was blown off, the boards loosened. It was all easily repaired, but the joy was gone, the birds gone their nests in ruins, the ground strewn with twisted broken tree trunks and uprooted trees. It was a scene of devastation, the end of childhood innocence.

    I remember a few years back when there was a famous case of illegal treehouse building in Point Grey, in the front yard set back no less which produced the same result; take it down. In all of these cases it is an adult who does the imagining, the building and the defending not the child. My father was wise when it came to tree house building; treehouse building is for kids not grown men. He provided the bent up nails, a piece of flat iron and a hammer, you haven’t really lived until you have straightened nails good enough to actually pound them into boards, he provided old lumber and a hand saw. He gave a few directions like which way to drive the nail and what angle, but for the most part he just came by to observe.

    I can’t help thinking that if kids build treehouses they are going to look a lot different and they are going to be defensible because they are built by kids.

  2. Pretty easy to look things up:


    Note the following requires a permit:
    – Building or altering a garage, shed, or deck

    If building a deck requires a permit – something akin to a deck – but higher up – and maybe with a “poop-deck” would surely require a permit.

    I wouldn’t want people building up or digging down in their yards without proper approval.
    Watch any of the “Love it or List it” type renovation TV shows and they often have to fix unpermitted additions to houses.

  3. The city is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. The odds of a kid drowning in this delightful backyard pool are small but not zero. If it were to happen, what does anyone think would happen? The owner and city would pay. Keep in mind these seemingly-needless regulations are usually the result of kids actually drowning in delightful backyard swimming pools. So long as the city is partially liable, they’re going to be jerks about it, and not without good reason.

    As far as the complaints about it being an eyesore, they should be disdainfully ignored. No self respecting adult should complain about such a thing.

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