Bylaw enforcement getting more discretion
Letting the garbage pile up on Barrie properties just got tougher for owners. City councillors have given initial approval to property standards and yard maintenance changes that would allow bylaw enforcement officers more discretion to cut compliance time lines. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
Letting the grass grow long, the weeds grow high or garbage pile up on Barrie properties just got tougher for owners.
City councillors have given initial approval to property standards and yard maintenance changes that would allow bylaw enforcement officers more discretion to cut compliance time lines.
“There are people who openly violate the bylaw, are told what the bylaw is, don't do it (comply), leave their property a disaster and it's a huge problem,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said.
“And there are other people who inadvertently end up off-side with the bylaw, and our officers should have the discretion to give them ... the opportunity to bring it (their property) back into compliance.”
Homeowners are often given 24 hours to fix a property standards or yard maintenance problem, if the bylaw enforcement officers finds them at home.
If not, a notice is mailed and Canada Post given five days to deliver it, then two days are given to comply. These time lines can be extended, for example, if the homeowner is on vacation.
“Those prescriptive time lines tend to be longer than what the neighbours who may be concerned about the situation are expecting,” said Dawn McAlpine, the city's general manager of community and corporate services.
Lehman said flexibility is important to how these bylaws are enforced, and that discretion must work both ways.
“While I don't have any sympathy for people who leave their lawns covered in garbage or leave a giant mess around, I have a lot more sympathy for the family that goes away for a couple of weeks vacation (and) the grass grows faster than they expect,” he said.
“By the time they get home we've (the city has) sent somebody in to cut it, because we only gave them two days to comply and they didn't get the letter in the registered mail. It just strikes me as a wee bit tight.”
The mayor asked for a staff memo, when council considers passing the bylaw changes, to highlight exactly what is changing.
“When we have a bylaw and we're required to enforce it, the wording of the bylaw is not flexible,” Lehman said. “What's flexible is how the enforcement is conducted.”
The changes also allow city staff to deal with complaints which are frivolous, vexatious or neighbours who are unreasonably persistent. It can be determined the complaint is unwarranted and staff will spend no further time on it.
A $100 fee can also be charged to deter those who make retaliatory or vindictive complaints, although McAlpine said there are usually only one or two a year.
“I think every councillor deals with a person who's had a bylaw complaint against them, then goes around the neighbourhood, reporting everybody else that's got the same problem, or even the two neighbours that spend all their time reporting on each other,” said Coun. Barry Ward.
Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth asked if this would affect her duties in Ward 1.
“I traditionally go around my ward and do all sorts of reporting,” she said. “Are you going to nail me if I make a mistake?'
“We're well aware of your reporting,” McAlpine said, “but no, it would be in cases where the individual was reporting situations ... where no material violation, or a violation at all, exists.”
During the first nine months of 2017, the city received 1,100 yard maintenance complaints in Barrie, 827 of them were resolved with no fine and 273 were non-compliant, with orders issued and service fees charged.
In the same time period there were 271 property standards complaints, there was compliance with 226 and non-compliance and fees charged with 49.
“The system does seem to work pretty well, in the sense that 80% of the inspections result in people bringing their property in compliance with the bylaw,” Lehman said. “The changes that are proposed ... the most significant one is about giving the (bylaw) officers the discretion to be more flexible.”
Council will consider final approval to the property standards and yard maintenance bylaws at its Nov. 20 meeting, with the bylaws themselves to follow.