What happens if I find a burial ground on my property?


 
While the discovery of a burial ground or human remains on your property might sound like the beginning of a spooky tale or Halloween movie, it’s actually not unusual to come across a burial site when developing land.

It is less likely that you’ll stumble upon a burial ground in towns and cities, mostly because urban areas have already been developed. But they are uncovered from time to time as some rural areas are developed.

Early settler family cemeteries on private property were once quite common in Ontario. You will often see them along country roads or tucked into small areas in cities.

There are a few things you should know about burial sites and cemeteries on private property. First, a burial site is where human remains are buried, but the site has not been identified and licensed as a cemetery. (A cemetery is defined as a dedicated parcel of land that contains human remains.)

Discovering a burial site

Let’s talk about burial sites first. If you are excavating on your property and come across human remains, you must stop digging and call the police or the local coroner. If the coroner confirms the remains are human, the coroner and police must determine whether further investigation is necessary. If they determine that it is not a criminal matter, the coroner will notify the Government of Ontario. The site may then be established as a cemetery, at which point the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) will be contacted for licensing the site as a cemetery. The BAO regulates funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoriums in Ontario. I appreciate their assistance in answering this question.

Owning property with a cemetery

If you are considering buying a property that contains a cemetery you should know that every cemetery in Ontario is required to be registered with the BAO.

Having a cemetery on the property raises several obligations and restrictions including the inability to build on or alter part or all of the property. Since burials are considered to be “in perpetuity”, a new buyer should not presume that the cemetery can be moved or closed.

The owner of a property that includes a cemetery becomes the cemetery licensed operator and has certain legal obligations, including maintaining the cemetery by mowing the lawn, clearing debris and keeping a clear path to and from the cemetery for visitors.

If it is an active cemetery doing burials and scattering cremated remains, there are other reporting obligations you should understand before buying the property.

Similarly, if you are a seller of a property that has a cemetery on it, make sure to disclose the cemetery to a prospective buyer before the sale and contact the BAO.

Some people might be squeamish about purchasing a property with a cemetery on it. Their reasons might include cultural beliefs that living near a cemetery is unlucky or taboo. Other people could simply have concerns that stem from watching too many horror movies.

If you are buying a rural property that contains a cemetery, do your due diligence to understand your obligations.

It’s unlikely you will uncover a burial ground, but in case you do you’ll know what to do.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email information@reco.on.ca.


This column is for general information purposes only and is not meant as legal or professional advice on real estate transactions.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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