May 27th, 2024

Stricter unsightly property enforcement OK’d

By Collin Gallant on May 10, 2024.

The city is instituting changes to the unsightly property bylaw that officials say will allow them to deal with issues related to structure and appearance of housing in disrepair. This building, on the 300 block of Fourth Street SE, is boarded up and shows heavy fire damage on one side. A demolition permit was applied for and granted to the property owner last month.--News Photo Collin Gallant

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Changes to the city’s property standards bylaw and how it is enforced should make a difference in long-standing frustration with derelict properties, city officials said this week.

On Monday, council approved changes called for last year to strengthen enforcement against boarded homes and properties that have fallen into disrepair.

That includes new requirements to paint plywood covering broken windows and doors, attend to broken gutters or structural components and remove dismantled vehicles.

Couns. Shila Sharps and Andy McGrogan pushed for the review last October, saying that residents saw the 20-year-old bylaw as ineffective at addressing long-standing problem properties.

On Monday, Sharps said the result “puts some meat on the bones of this bylaw to get our neighbourhoods cleaned up a little bit.”

“This is not just people getting $200 tickets, nothing ever happening and neighbours being ticked off consistently.”

Specific changes give bylaw officers the ability to ticket tenants and not just property owners in certain cases, at the discretion of officers, raises fines and adds options for early intervention on general repairs, not just extreme examples.

“The biggest difference is (inclusion) of maintenance standards,” said bylaw enforcement supervisor Brad Potts.

“Officers could deal with issues before the property becomes unsightly or dilapidated … (and) work with the community to get properties up to par.

“Officers could look at walls, exterior doors, small things that could be fixed before it’s classified as unsightly. It’s more proactive.”

Definitions for unsuitable vehicles parked on sites are to include badly damaged, dismantled or unsafe vehicles.

A “Reasonable state of repair” refers to structures free of “significant damage … rot … noxious substances or fumes” and is generally safe. That includes maintaining foundations, porches, fences, sidewalks, roofs and siding among other fixtures.

First-offence fines would range from $300 to $500, rising up to $10,000 for subsequent offences for residential properties. Minimum fines for commercial properties would range from $500 to $2,000 and then $2,000 to $10,000 afterward.

Failing to respond to an order requiring work could result in additional fines.

City manager Ann Mitchell said different departments respond to the complaints, which has caused some operational problems, but she said last fall and again this week that administrators would better focus the issues.

“This is about how we’re connecting the dots to make sure we’re addressing these problems,” she told council. “There needs to be a lead agency that’s responsible, so if a member of the public calls saying, ‘We need to address this property’ … then there’s one window and they’re not being told it’s safety codes, its bylaw, it’s fire (marshals).”

Development and infrastructure directer Pat Bohan said the organizational work is underway.

“It’s a common issue throughout North America, and we’re formulating a multi-agency approach on how to tackle it,” he said, noting discussions with police, bylaw and planning department are being finalized. “We meet on this quarterly to review and I can tell you that we’ve made significant progress since December on a number of properties.

“We do need to pull ahead a little more.”

Last fall the city’s assessment department reported watching a new tax measure in Edmonton that levied additional payments on properties considered vacant and in disrepair. At that time, city officials believed 28 would qualify.

However, in Medicine Hat’s case, the additional income likely wouldn’t cover the cost of more inspections required to designate the properties or deal with potential appeals.

A report from the local assessment office is due next year outlining results of the initial year of action in Edmonton.

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