City doubles bylaw fines for unsightly properties

City doubles bylaw fines for unsightly properties

Property maintenance makes up 80% of bylaw calls: Scott

Bylaw fines for unsightly properties in Port Alberni will be doubled, following a recommendation from the city’s manager of bylaw services.

Council gave final reading to a Property Maintenance Bylaw amendment during a council meeting on Monday, Nov. 12. The proposed amendment changes collection fees from $100 to $200 per offence.

Bylaw Services Manager Flynn Scott said on Monday that property maintenance calls are heavy on bylaw resources, and also time-consuming.

“When I did a review of the bylaw services department, I found that about 80 percent of our calls were in relation to property maintenance,” he explained.

Scott was hired by the city in May of this year, after city council agreed to start budgeting for a full bylaw enforcement department. Since then, Scott has been working to make sure the department is “proactive, instead of reactive.”

New procedures have been implemented for dealing with enforcement issues, especially when it comes to chronic offenders. Whenever a complaint is filed with bylaw services, a letter is sent out to property owners. A bylaw enforcement officer attends after 14 days to make sure the property has been cleaned up.

“Failure to comply…from there, what we’ll do is we’ll issue a fine,” said Scott. “If you don’t clean it up in that time, we actually have a contractor come in and do the work and we bill it back to the property owner.”

He emphasized that public education and voluntary compliance come before fines.

Councillor Cindy Solda expressed her concern that the new fees were still too low, especially for absentee landlords, and suggested revisiting the bylaw in six months to see the results.

“The only way to get something done is to bump them up,” she said.

Councillor Helen Poon asked about the city’s compliance rate, and Scott said that it has been “very successful” since the procedural changes.

“Our bylaw admin staff anticipated that we would get a lot of angry customers coming back,” he said “In fact, it’s actually been the opposite.”

The city has had an extremely low pay rate of fines in the past, which he attributed to some clerical errors that are now being reviewed. Port Alberni is now at a 14 percent pay rate of tickets, said Scott, compared to a 46 percent rate across the province.

On Monday, council also gave first readings to an amended bylaw for building standards—a bylaw that had not had any amendments since its adoption in 2014. Scott also mentioned a new pilot project for graffitti on buildings that will be rolling out in the coming weeks. This initiative, he said, will have an enforcement side, as well as a “proactive, engagement side” where the city works with local business owners.

Scott will also be drafting a brand new Property Maintenance Bylaw, since it is so frequently used. Bylaws are coming to council in a priority order, he said last week.

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com