Toronto family forced to dismantle, move backyard 'pirate ship' after complaint to city

·4 min read

It was a labour of love when John Konstantinidis built a large "pirate ship" in his backyard to bring his kids joy in the middle of a pandemic.

But the Toronto family says in the past couple of weeks, a complaint from a neighbour led to city officials knocking on their door. Now, Konstantinidis has to dismantle the structure — which is actually part swimming pool and part deck — move it and reassemble it.

"The kids went crazy. I mean, bawling.... They were very sad about it," he said.

"Kids always tend to be victims in such situations."

Konstantinidis said he doesn't have any documentation from the city explaining the violation.

In an email to CBC News, a representative from the City of Toronto explained that officials followed up on a complaint regarding a large structure with a pool close to the property line. However, Konstantinidis's next-door neighbour told CBC Toronto they were not the ones who lodged the complaint.

"For public safety, a pool such as this one requires a pool permit which ensures the pool is properly fenced in," the email from the city reads.

Given the size of the structure, it also requires a building permit, the city said.

"Building staff have attended regarding this issue. The owner has been advised to move structure back five feet in order to comply with zoning setback requirements for pools," the email said. That's the minimum distance required from the waterline to the property line, it said.

Paul Borkwood/CBC
Paul Borkwood/CBC

It had taken Konstantinidis two months to complete the pirate ship, and it was only up for about a week when bylaw officers spoke to the family.

Voula Konstantinidis said she and her husband were shocked.

"We didn't think it was an issue," she said.

A chance for the family to be together

Konstantinidis built the ship in an effort to get his kids away from their devices and out of the house in a setting where the whole family could be together

He said that he closed his downtown restaurant, Pita Choice, before the pandemic hit and was ready to sign a new lease at a new downtown location shortly thereafter, but he was told by the building owners he had to wait until the pandemic was over.

"This is very, very rare for me to be able to be at home for this long and not working. Usually, I work seven days a week," he said, explaining that having more time to spend with his family is the one positive thing that has come from the pandemic.

Paul Borkwood/CBC
Paul Borkwood/CBC

Konstantinidis said it was difficult for him to see the toll having to dismantle the pirate ship has taken on his kids.

"I thought it was great, but when I heard that we had to empty the water and stuff, it made me heartbroken," said nine-year-old Michael.

"It took a very long time to build," said Steven, 7. He said knowing how hard his dad worked on it made him feel like his heart was "getting bigger and bigger."

They're excited to get the ship back up and running soon so that they can once again swim in the pool.

'If I can build it, I can move it'

Their father has already moved about a third of the ship far enough from the fence, and has some more work to do over the coming days and weeks.

"I can't really put an amount of difficulty on that, but if I can build it," Konstantinidis said, "I can move it."

He said the family is willing to make the necessary changes in an effort to make all parties happy.

Paul Borkwood/CBC
Paul Borkwood/CBC

Konstantinidis even reached out to another Torontonian who had found himself in a similar situation in 2016, after building an elaborate boat-treehouse in his backyard.

John Alpeza had been ordered to take the house down, but after fighting with the city and taking his case to the Ontario Municipal Board, he was given permission to keep it, provided he met certain conditions.

Konstantinidis said his biggest lesson from his brief chat with Alpeza, and from this whole experience, is that it's important to do your homework before you start building anything in your backyard.

Paul Borkwood/CBC
Paul Borkwood/CBC