Faced with increasing numbers of complaints about unsightly and vacant properties, Penticton city council is considering a new bylaw that will give staff more options for dealing with recalcitrant land owners.
“In Penticton, the number of vacant and unfinished buildings has increased over the last few years,” said Anthony Haddad, director of development services. City staff have received a variety of complaints from concerned residents surrounding safety, health and deteriorating property values.
The city uses several bylaws to address these kinds of problem properties, which leads to an inconsistent approach, with a financial impact to each of the city departments involved for the complaint and site reviews necessary.
“There is no specific definition of a vacant building and the actions required to remediate potential safety and visual concerns with structures,” said Haddad. “Current measures have not been effective in cleaning up abandoned or derelict building sites.”
Haddad proposed the city adopt a good neighbour bylaw, intended to take into account noise, unsightly premises and usage concerns, consolidating a number of city bylaws into one to tackle the issue.
The proposed bylaw includes a schedule of fees, ranging from $130 for investigation and monitoring inspections and a $250 fine for failing to register a vacant building, up to fees of $1,500 and $2,500 to register a vacant building, depending on use. It also includes, in case of a fire, with charging the owner all costs related to having the fire department attend.
“I think those fines aren’t stiff enough. I think if they are going to take us seriously, we have to put in something that is of consequence to them,” said Coun. Judy Sentes. “Then, that is more of incentive for them to address the scenario.”
Haddad agreed to research higher fees before he brings a draft of the proposed bylaw before council, though he said the fee structure is limited in terms of the amount of work that bylaw enforcement and the fire department may have to do on the property.
“All costs borne by city staff … will be passed back onto the property owners through either property taxes, or, in the worst case scenario, by the city taking ownership of these properties,” said Haddad.
There are currently 24 problem sites recorded within the city, including vacant homes and building sites. The list also includes brownfields — abandoned industrial or commercial sites where soil contamination has made redevelopment or sale of the property prohibitively expensive.
“We’re dealing with sites that we all know have had issue after issue. Owners have ignored those issues,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “These people aren’t contacting us because they have no reason to take action on these properties, and this is a reason now for them to take action.”