When do I need a tree information report?

If you want to remove a privately-owned tree over a certain size, you need to submit a Tree Information Report and obtain a permit from the City of Ottawa.

The size can vary depending on where you are in the city. Inside the greenbelt (e.g., Rockcliffe Park, Glebe, Overbrook, Alta Vista), the threshold is 30cm trunk diameter, measured at 1.3m above the ground. Outside the greenbelt (e.g., Orleans, Blackburn Hamlet, Barrhaven), the threshold is 50cm.

You can take these measurements yourself, but if you’re not sure, ask an arborist to assess and measure the tree for you.

How do I know if a tree is privately owned?

The City of Ottawa owns about 160,000 trees, many of them sitting on private lots in the right-of-way. If you’re not sure whether or not you own a tree, you can call 3-1-1 and ask. They may be able to answer you over the phone, but if not, they will send out a forestry inspector to take measurements and determine the tree’s ownership.

How do I get a tree permit?

As of January 1, 2021, you now require an assessment by a qualified arborist to submit a tree information report. The City of Ottawa accepts several qualifications, including ISA-Certified Arborist and Qualified Tree Risk Assessor. 

In order to get a tree information report accepted, there needs to be a good reason to take the tree down. Good Reasons to take a tree down include:

  • It has serious structural defects (e.g., included bark, cavities)
  • It has a fungal infection (signs include mushrooms, rotten/crumbling wood)
  • It has sustained serious mechanical damage that threatens its stability (e.g., cracked trunk, root plate heaving)
  • It is declining (i.e., in the process of dying)

The city does occasionally deny permits if the reason is not strong enough. Bad Reasons to take a tree down include:

  • You can’t grow grass under it
  • It’s too tall
  • It drops too many leaves
  • It drips sap on your car

When do you NOT need a tree information report?

This is where things get a bit fuzzy. You can remove a tree without a permit if it is hazardous. However, arguing that a tree is hazardous is one of the best ways to get a permit. Huh? The difference is of degree: the hazards have to be so severe that they pose an imminent threat to public health and safety. In other words, the City of Ottawa sets a very high bar for a tree to be considered exempt. It needs to be so hazardous that it could fail and cause serious property damage or injury in the 3-week period it typically takes to get a response to a tree information report. 

Reasons a tree can be considered exempt:

  • It is dead
  • It has already begun to fail (e.g., a two-trunk tree splitting apart)
  • It has sustained such severe storm damage that it is no longer viable. 

In short, if you want to remove a tree on your property, it is best to get an assessment done by a qualified arborist. They will be able to tell you if a permit is required and how likely a permit is to be issued.