By-law can refer to a law of local or limited application passed under the authority of a higher law specifying what things may be regulated by the by-law. It can also refer to the internal rules of a company or organization.
Municipal by-laws are public regulatory laws which apply in a certain area. The main difference between a by-law and a law passed by a national/federal or regional/state body is that a bylaw is a made by a non-sovereign body, which derives its authority from another governing body, and can only be made on a limited range of matters. A local council or municipal government gets its power to pass laws through a law of the national or regional government which specifies what things the town or city may regulate through bylaws. It is therefore a form of delegated legislation.
Within its jurisdiction and specific to those areas mandated by the higher body, a municipal bylaw is no different than any other law of the land, and can be enforced with penalties, challenged in court and must comply with other laws of the land, such as the country’s constitution. Municipal bylaws are often enforceable through the public justice system, and offenders can be charged with a criminal offence for breach of a bylaw. Common bylaws include vehicle parking and stopping regulations, animal control, building and construction, licensing, noise, zoning and business regulation, and management of public recreation areas.
A Bylaw Enforcement Officer is a law enforcement employee of a municipality, county or regional district, charged with the enforcement of non-criminal bylaws, rules, laws, codes or regulations enacted by local governments.
In the Province of Ontario, Bylaw Enforcement Officers are generally titled “Municipal Law Enforcement Officers” They are engaged in a variety of quasi-police activities, especially enforcement roles that for lack of staffing are not handled by police officers. Contrary to popular belief, although some work conducted by Bylaw Enforcement Officers can be very minor in gravity, such as issuing tickets for expired meters, many of the investigational and enforcement duties conducted by bylaw officers are extremely important and necessary for the well-being of society. Dog attacks, for example, can be very serious events, where people or other animals can be gravely hurt. In most jurisdictions with bylaw officers, investigational work concerning dog attacks is conducted solely by the bylaw officers, without any police involvement. Such work can prevent future attacks, protect society from harm and/or cause an animal to be euthanized and its owners to face severe fines. As well, Bylaw Enforcement Officers care for and protect animals, help mediate neighbourhood disputes, assure public safety by investigating illegal garbage/waste dumping and enforce regulations, the absence of which can severely impact a person’s well-being, such as late-night noise from frequent parties that prevents a neighbourhood from sleeping.
Furthermore, Bylaw Enforcement Officers are the first line of defense against a physical degradation of a neighbourhood or area, which can start with a broken window, lead to unsightly premises, and soon be littered with garbage, illegal signs, uninsured vehicles and lower real estate values. Bylaw Enforcement is instrumental in preserving well-functioning neighbourhoods and fixing problematic ones.
THE STRUCTURE OF BYLAW ENFORCEMENT SERVICES
Most bylaw enforcement services are structured in one of the following ways:
- General Bylaw Enforcement – where the Bylaw Enforcement Officer is responsible for many different bylaws, such as parking, business regulations, animal control, zoning, noise, signs, etc. Specialized trades inspection is still conducted by a skilled trade’s inspector with experience in the field, such as a Building Inspector or an Electrical or Plumbing Inspector. In this capacity, the general Bylaw Enforcement Officer is frequently asked to conduct added duties to respond to a problem. Specialized ‘non’ uniform services may be added to assist in enforcement duties where a different image is more productive – such as in the enforcement of business regulations. Some cities employ License Inspectors for tasks where the “suit” is more effective than the “badge.”
- General Bylaw Enforcement without Animal Control – where the officers enforce various regulations, but do not conduct animal control, which is assigned to specialized Animal Control Officers or is contracted out to an outside agency such as the SPCA.
- Stratified or Diversified Bylaw Enforcement – where different tasks within bylaw enforcement are handled by different classes of employees. Parking regulations may be enforced by Parking Enforcement Officers, animal regulations by Animal Control Officers, different classes of Inspectors may exist for Licensing, Property Use, Signage, Garbage & Waste, Environmental Protection/Recycling, Street Use or Engineering Inspectors, etc. This model is usually employed in larger cities, although it is frequently seen as bureaucratic and inefficient, since workloads may not warrant the employment of so many classes of personnel all for specialized tasks. This model is often inefficient because enforcement is conducted from City Hall or offices, through letters and reports, rather than through a more direct approach of site visits. Furthermore, this model offers significantly less flexibility to concentrate on more problematic areas, as there can be tendency for incumbents to “stick” to their own work and turn a blind eye to other problems, of which, in fairness, they may not be even aware due to a lack of training.
THE TORONTO MUNICIPAL CODE
The Toronto Municipal Code is a compilation of by-laws organized by subject. Each chapter is a by-law. For example, Chapter 591 – Noise; Chapter 447 – Fences, Chapter 480 Garage Sales , Chapter 485 Graffiti , Chapter 489 Long Grass and Weeds , Chapter 497 Heating , Chapter 545 Licensing Chapter 548 Littering and Dumping of Refuse , Chapter 629 Property Standards, Chapter 835 Vital Services , Chapter 844 Waste Collection, Residential Properties , Chapter 349 Animals, or, Chapter 548 Littering and Dumping of Refuse
BY-LAW STATUS REGISTER
The City of Toronto and the former municipalities that make up the amalgamated City have passed more than 180,000 by-laws. Many of these by-laws (including Official Plan and Zoning amendments) are still in force today.