Penticton bylaw clamps down on vacant properties

Good neighbour bylaw adds teeth to enforcement efforts against derelict properties

Penticton’s bylaw enforcement officers will soon have some new tools to deal with a range of nuisance situations, from panhandling to derelict properties.

The good neighbour bylaw was given three readings by Penticton council Monday evening, and is expected to be back for final approval in August.

Coun. Garry Litke became aware of some of the problems with vacant properties when he was approached by a neighbourhood group concerned about two problem buildings in their neighbourhood.

“What we ran up against was bylaw saying we have no authority to go in and do anything about this,” said Litke, who said he was pleased to see the good neighbour bylaw included a joint property safety team with representatives from bylaw enforcement, RCMP, fire, engineering and representatives from the Downtown Penticton Association, B.C. Safety Authority and Interior Health, which will convene once a month to review issues dealing with nuisance properties and persons.

“My only caution would be that I hope the community doesn’t start using this bylaw inappropriately, because there is the potential,” he said. “It’s a new tool and designed to improve properties, not to be used as a weapon between neighbours. I think there is enough built into it to prevent that kind of thing happening.”

The wide-ranging bylaw sweeps together several bylaws into a single package, adding regulations to allow the city to deal with vacant and derelict buildings.

According to Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager, the good neighbour bylaw was created to protect the quality of life and property investment for Pentictonites, inform resident and business owners of their responsibilities to be a good neighbour and increase public awareness and create stronger community.

“It also provides strong compliancy regulations,” he said.  “We believe good neighbours create a great community.”

The property maintenance section of the new bylaw, explained Kunka, is extensive. It now includes vacant buildings and how they are to be maintained, repaired or removed; that includes derelict and fire-damaged structures as well as incomplete building projects.

“Currently, there are 25 properties in the city that could be classified as a vacant building,” said Kunka. This section, he added, allows for property owners to appeal the decision regarding their property, but also allows for the city to take action when needed and recover the costs from the property owner. It also requires owners to register their vacant buildings, or face ongoing fines.

Those fines have yet to be finalized, but according to Anthony Haddad, director of development services, they will have a full schedule ready to amend the fees and services bylaw when the good neighbour bylaw comes before council for final approval. When the bylaw was proposed earlier this year, a range of fees was suggested, 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 at a vacant building, a provision charging the owner all costs related to having the fire department attend.

Bylaws to be repealed in the near future include ones dealing with obstructive solicitation, noise and nuisance and maintenance of private property. Those bylaws will now be contained in the larger good neighbour bylaw.

Even without the good neighbour bylaw in place, the city managed to deal with one problem property near Queen’s Park Elementary. The home, which was damaged by fire nearly five years ago and left vacant and decaying since, was the subject of numerous complaints by neighbours, leading to a series of investigations and maintenance orders by bylaw enforcement officers. In April, city council supported a staff recommendation to order the property owner to demolish the building by mid-May, or the city would step in and do it at the owner’s cost.

“That has been demolished and met the timelines we put forward. They dealt with the building appropriately,” said Haddad. The site has been levelled, he added and the basement removed, which was required under the demolish order. The Singla project on Winnipeg Street, Haddad continued, might fall under the bylaw, but there is now an active building permit for the site again, and he hopes work will be able to begin again soon.

“Under the bylaw, if it was in today, it would be exempted from having to go through the vacant building permit registration,” said Haddad. “We really want to issue that one, we’re just tidying up a couple of things with Paul (Singla) and his designers.”