City to put bite on nuisance properties

City council unanimously approved a bylaw on Monday which will give the city "some pretty serious teeth" to crack down on chronic nuisance properties.

The bylaw was created in response to a notice of motion by Coun. Brian Skakun in June 2016, after the city suspended the business licence of the Connaught Motor Inn. In that case, the RCMP had been called to the motel more than 700 times in an 18-month period.

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Skakun's notice of motion asked city staff to prepare a bylaw which would allow the city to recover some of the costs incurred in dealing with chronic problem properties.

"People in the community are sick of subsidizing this bad behaviour," Skakun said. "For me it's not just about recovering costs, but to have a deterrent out there."

City general manager of administrative services Walter Babicz said the city already had the authority to use remedial action orders, legislated under B.C.'s Community Charter, to deal with physical property problems like dilapidated buildings, unsanitary premises, etc. The new bylaw creates a similar process for the city to deal with chronic nuisance behaviour at a property, including things like noisy parties, loud music, revving engines, screaming, fighting, littering, trespassing, bright lights, noxious odours, vibration, car racing or other irritations.

Like a remedial action order, city administration would first send an administrative order to the property owner asking them to stop the nuisance behaviours, Babicz said.

"If a property owner doesn't comply with the administrative order, then staff can bring it to city council," he explained.

City staff would present their evidence to city council, and the property owner would be allowed to make a presentation.

Coun. Jillian Merrick said she was glad the only people who will be allowed to present during the city council hearing would be city officials and the property owners. Allowing neighbours and others to address council on the issue could result in ugly disputes, she said.

"I don't want to start any witch hunts," she said.

If city council approved the order, then any future time city staff or RCMP were called to the property to deal with nuisance issues, the city could fine them using a schedule of costs based on the position and number of city employees involved.

Under the bylaw, anyone who violates it can be fined between $200 and $10,000. The hourly cost for staff and RCMP attendance ranges from $38 to $111 per hour, plus potentially an additional $10 to $250 per city vehicle involved in resolving the issue.

City council could seek costs from the property owner, the occupant or both, Babicz said. Any order would include a fixed time span.

The fines can't be applied retroactively to events which take place before city council issues the order, and wouldn't be used to deal with "one off" issues like a single noisy party, Babicz wrote in his report.

"We have a number of residences where first responders and RCMP are called all the time," Mayor Lyn Hall said. "We want people to take pride in Prince George, whether they live here or don't."

Hall said he'd like to see the city take action against the owners of those properties in a similar manner to how the Connaught Motor Inn was dealt with.

"I see this not as new regulation, but giving existing regulation new, pretty serious, teeth," Coun. Garth Frizzell said.

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