Special Issues Buying Rural Property

Many people come to the County because they want to enjoy the rural lifestyle but there are some special issues buying rural property. This article provides a checklist for many of the special issues buying rural property.

Check the zoning before buying property

Official Plan & Zoning

The County’s Official Plan and Zoning By-Law are readily available on the County’s web site. You should check the property’s status under both the Official Plan and Zoning to make sure that you can do the things you want to do with the property, and that neighbors won’t be doing things you don’t want.

When buying rural properties, buyers often think about severing off a lot so they can sell it and recover some of their purchase costs.

The ability to sever rural land is tightly regulated under both the Official Plan and Zoning. To give just one example, if you buy a hobby farm which is classified Prime Agriculture under the Official Plan, severance will be virtually impossible. On the other hand, land classed as Rural under the Official Plan may be severable.

To complicate matters here in the County, the County will adopt a new official plan in late 2019 which will change many properties in the northwest of the County from Rural to Prime Ag.

Planning and zoning issues are both important and complicated. You should expect your real estate representative to advise you on the status of any property you are considering and the implications.


When thinking about the special issues buying rural property, drainage may not be at the top of your list but it can be important.

Much of the County is flat land which doesn’t drain well. A property which is dry in the summer time or looks good in winter may have a real drainage problem during the spring snow melt or heavy rain. Last year County council heard from the owner of one such flat property where water came nearly to the front door during the spring run off.

There are several simple things you can do to protect against unexpected drainage issues.

Draining problems in the County are general measure in inches not feet of water. If the land slopes away from the house location, you’re probably good.

Another simple and foolproof measure: knock on the door ask the neighbors whether there’s an issue with water drainage.

Finally, in 2018 the County began requiring a drainage plan prepare by a surveyor or engineer for any property severance. A drainage plan will show the height of the land and the flow of water for the property.

Environmentally Protected Areas

It pays to check at an early stage whether there are any environmentally protected areas on the property you are considering. No building can take place on an environmentally protected area or within 15 meters of the edge of a protected area.

Any wetlands on the property are likely to be environmentally protected. Any watercourses (streams) are automatically protected as far as the 100-year flood line. Likewise, any escarpments are automatically environmentally protected so that nothing can be built within 15 meters (50 feet) of the edge of the escarpment.

To avoid surprise, it’s a good idea to check the property’s zoning on the County’s Geographic Information System.

You can also use the topographical map feature on the municipal GIS to easily identify escarpments which don’t always show on the photos in real estate listings.

If in doubt, speak to the County’s planning department or Quinte Conservation.

100-Year Flood Line

For properties with water front, there is a special issue to consider: no building can take place within 15 meters of the 100-year flood line, which is the highest the lake water is expected to attain over a 100-year period.

For sloping water front land, this is not an issue, but the 100-year flood line can extend far inland where the land is flat.

Information on the 100-year flood line used to be available on the County’s GIS, but now Quinte Conservation is the only source.

A practical way to get an idea of the 100-year flood line is to find out how high the water rose during the big flood of 2016 or again during the 2019 flood.

If there is doubt about the exact location of the 100-year flood line, Quinte Conservation will survey the site for a few hundred dollars.

Minimum Distance Separation (MDS)

MDS is another one of the special issues buying rural property that you’ll never hear about in a big city.

The County follows a set of provincial Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) rules in rural areas. The rules mean the new homes cannot be built too close to existing livestock operations (and that new or expanded livestock operations cannot be put too close to existing houses).

If there are no livestock operations nearby, you don’t have much to worry about from the MDS rules. If there are livestock operations in the neighborhood, the MDS calculations are complex and planning can be consulted if there’s any doubt whether MDS rules apply to a property.


There is genuine high-speed internet in the built-up areas in the County including Picton, Wellington and Rossmore, but it’s a different story in rural areas.

Most of the County is served by two “over the airwaves” internet providers – Kingston Online Services (KOS) and Xplornet. However, speeds are significantly slowing than in the built-up areas and coverage can be spotty in some parts of the County.

It pays to determine the quality of the internet service before making an offer.

Qualifications on Property Rights

The County was originally surveyed by the Crown over two centuries ago and there have been many changes in land usage since then.

If a farmer granted an easement to a neighbor to let them take a shortcut across the farm in 1867, it still applies today if it’s registered on title.

You should ask your lawyer if there are any easements or rights of way on the property you are considering. Although it doesn’t tell the whole story, any time you see S/T (subject to) or T/W (together with) in the legal description of a property, there could be an easement or right of way.


I have covered the issue of well water elsewhere, but it would be safe to say that well water is probably the second-most discussed topic among rural property owners, right behind the weather.

The quantity and quality of well water are unpredictable in the County, but it’s still helpful to use the provincial well water database to consider nearby properties.

For More Information

Although this is not an exhaustive list, these of some of the most common issues buying rural property. If you have any questions, please contact me at treat@treathull.ca or 613-503-0027.