Town Council moved two separate bylaws to first reading at its Sept. 30 council meeting that will enable council to levy fines for derelict properties, messy yards and unoccupied buildings that present a serious fire risk.
“We have had quite a few conversations in the past couple years about how to deal with the unsightly and vacant premises that we do have in town,” said Mayor Natasha Kulikowski. “These give us some real teeth to kind of move forward on trying to address these issues.”
Both bylaws come at the same time as the town fire department investigates a fire that was reported in a vacant property Oct. 1. It is the second vacant property that has turned into a fire hazard this year.
The first bylaw, the Vacant and Derelict Property Bylaw outlines responsibilities for homeowners in town with regards to maintaining fences, foundations, walls, roofs, windows, door casings, stairs, landings, porches, balconies and desks, as well as decorative and protective finishes.
Property owners will also be required to inform the town if leaving their home vacant for extended periods of times. The bylaw also forbids land owners from knowingly leaving a vacant or derelict building that is a danger to public safety or a fire hazard. Vacant buildings must also be properly secured against potential vandalism by installing a security system or barrier to prevent entry.
Access to walkways, drive ways, parking spaces and other lanes of access for emergency services, such as the red boxes on utilidors that act as fire hydrants, must be maintained throughout the winter.
Under the new bylaw, town peace officers will be able to access properties for inspections and serve a notice to anyone in violation of the rules. If the town believes the property is creating an “imminent and serious danger to public safety,” it may take any action deemed necessary to eliminate the danger. Property owners will be on the hook for any costs incurred.
Fines are specified in first, second and third offences. Penalties for a structure not in good repair start at $250, then double to $500 and again to $1,000. The same applies to Allowing a property to become derelict, failing to secure a vacant or derelict premise and obstructing a peace officer. Penalties for failing to maintain safe access for emergency services, failing to comply with a notice and improperly storing hazardous materials on a property start at $500, then go to $1,000 and finally $2,000 for third and additional offences.
The second bylaw, the Unsightly Land/Premises Bylaw, was written alongside the previous bylaw. An unsightly premise is defined as “any property or part of it which is characterized by visual evidence of a lack of general maintenance and upkeep and/or by the accumulation on the property of any of the following, but not limited to: any animal material, ashes, building material, collectible refuse, garbage, hazardous waste, litter, refuse or waste material, household appliances and furniture; all-terrain vehicles, buses, commercial or construction vehicles, motorcycles, motor vehicles, trailers, vehicles, equipment, or machinery which have been rendered inoperative by reason of their disassembly, age or mechanical condition; and, in the case of external surfaces of buildings, unsightly land/premises means unauthorized signs, posters, billboards, graffiti, obscene or offensive symbols, words, pictures or art, and may include, but is not limited to, dilapidated paint, siding, trim, roofing material, soffits, facia material and eave troughs.”
Under the proposed changes, town peace officers will be able to enter a property believed to be unsightly for inspection and issue clean up orders based on their findings. When a clean-up order has been issued, the work must be completed within 15 days of the notice. If the order is not followed within that time frame, the town peace officer will be able to enter the property and clean the mess up themselves. Property owners will be on the hook for any expenses in the clean-up.
Permitting an unsightly condition and obstructing a peace officer can result in fines starting at $250 and doubling to $500 and then $1,000 for repeat offences. Penalties for failing to comply with a clean-up order start at $500, double to $1,000 and then $2,000 for third offence.
At the request of council, both bylaws are being returned to committee for review and will be before Town Council for second and third reading at a later council meeting.