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Ontario bans ‘floating homes’ from overnight stays on lakes

Premier Doug Ford’s government is slapping restrictions on floating homes, a new style of on-the-lake accommodation that has triggered controversy in Ontario’s cottage country, CBC News has learned.

The vessels — built using converted shipping containers — have provoked outrage among cottage owners and have been slammed as “ugly” by at least two local mayors. 

The province’s ban will prohibit the floating homes from staying overnight on public waterways.

The restrictions will take effect on July 1, according to a regulation posted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. 

The ban will only apply to what the province calls “floating accommodations,” defined in the regulation as floating structures designed primarily for residential purposes and not primarily for navigation.

Sailboats, houseboats, cabin cruisers or other traditional watercraft are not prohibited from overnight stays.

The ban on overnight anchoring on Ontario’s lakes and rivers would apply only to structures primarily designed for residential purposes, and would not apply to sailboats, cabin cruisers or houseboats. (Lotb.ca)

The ban comes after the province asked the public to comment on a proposal to regulate floating homes earlier this year.

The minister of natural resources and forestry, Graydon Smith, who is also MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, says environmental and safety concerns — not esthetics — are the reasons for the restrictions.

“While some people may not like the look of them, the primary driver behind this is environmental safety,” Smith said in an interview Friday.

“We’re not talking about something that is tiny. Often cases they can be 1,200 square feet. They are ostensibly a home that floats,” said Smith.

“Along with that, of course, you get a lot of grey water and waste. So the potential for any of that to go into a lake or river is something that we don’t want to see happen.” 

Smith also said the size of floating homes creates safety concerns about navigability.   

A floating cottage on a lake.
On the website of Joe Nimens’ company Live On The Bay, this is described as a two-bedroom floating beach house cottage, priced from $260,000. (lotb.ca)

The overnight stay ban would not apply to floating accommodations docked in private water lots, such as marinas, or on waterways under jurisdiction of other governments, such as portions of the Trent-Severn Canal, says a provincial news release issued Friday. 

The floating homes that first sparked debate in the Muskoka region and beyond are the brainchild of Joe Nimens. Using four shipping containers, Nimens built one to live in, based at the harbour in Port Severn, about 150 kilometres north of Toronto. Then he launched a business venture called Live On The Bay to custom-build floating homes for as little as $260,000. 

Nimens told CBC News this spring that he suspected his vessels were the target of the province’s proposed new regulations. He was not available for an interview Friday.

“I’m working with my legal team to prepare a response,” he said in an email. 

Live On The Bay’s creations have been classed by Transport Canada as vessels, which gave them the same boating and mooring rights as sailboats or cabin cruisers. That left the provincial government unable to stop the floating homes from anchoring overnight on lakes until it created the new regulation.

The company’s website says the floating homes are compliant with all relevant standards and regulations, including the provincial rules on discharge of sewage from pleasure boats.     

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