By Garry Shapiro BCL, LLB, MBA
The arrival of summertime means it is cottage season in Muskoka / Lake Of Bays. We can all imagine the picturesque Lake Of Bays. cottage with pristine water, crisp air, plenty of sunshine, surrounded by friends and family. Whether you own or dream of owning a cottage in Muskoka, it is important to understand the unique characteristics of owning rural properties.
The following are key legal considerations in purchasing or using a rural property such as a cottage:
ACCESS RIGHTS: Having a cottage in a remote area or on an island can be extremely rewarding, so long as you are able to access it by road or boat. Cottage owners should understand the nature of the roads leading to their property, including:
(a) whether the road is maintained by the municipality or by the individuals that access and use the road; (b) whether the roads
can be accessed only in the summertime or all year; (c) who pays the cost for maintaining the road, including snow removal; and (d) if there is a private right-of-way over another property.
SHORELINE ROAD ALLOWANCE: Many cottagers are surprised to discover that there is a 66-foot strip of land between their property and the water that they do not own. This can create two problems: (a) other individuals may be entitled to travel across the property; and (b) there may be a boathouse, deck or other structure built upon property which they do not own.
TITLE RESTRICTIONS: One of the most common issues affecting title of rural properties is the right of other individuals to travel across the subject property. There may be an easement providing a right-of-way or individuals may seek to rely on the Road Access Act.
WELL WATER AND POTABILITY: Many cottages obtain their water directly from wells. You will want to ensure that the water is safe to drink and that the system is able to provide a sufficient amount of water for household use.
SEWAGE AND SEPTIC TANKS: Cottage sewage and septic systems are sensitive to the ecosystem that they are a part of. It is important to understand the capacity of the system and the types of products and chemicals that may be flushed.
TAXATION: Before purchasing a second property, there are several income tax issues that may affect the ownership of the property which should be discussed with your accountant.
Because of the aforementioned issues, an offer to purchase a rural property should include a condition that the agreement is subject to your lawyer’s review, as well as conditions for an inspection of the property, including the well water and septic system.
Cottages are meant to be recreational, personal use properties and a source of rest and relaxation. No cottage owner wants to find out that there are laws or restrictions that affect the use of their property. It is important that prospective purchasers of cottage properties consult with their realtor, lawyer and other professional advisors to properly understand their rights and interests.