Provincial legislation that will assist authorities in dealing with nuisance properties is “another tool in the toolbox”, says North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring.
The Community Safety Act is intended to help make people feel safer reporting drug labs, crack houses and other nuisance properties linked to gun and gang violence, and give authorities more powers to shut down those sites.
The CSA was originally unanimously passed in 2013 by the former Liberal government, but was never brought into force.
However, Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and the current NDP government have recently revitalized the CSA and plan to see it enforced.
The proposed amendments to, and implementation of, the CSA will enable anyone to submit a confidential complaint to a provincial government unit that will enforce the Act.
As appropriate, this unit will investigate, collaborate with property owners and take escalating steps; up to ending tenancy agreements or closing a property for up to 90 days.
This is intended to help prevent changes in tenancy from allowing criminal activity to persist at a particular location.
“People who have criminals operating on the streets, where they live and work, deserve to know that they can speak up and remain safe,” said Farnworth.
“In turn, authorities need the teeth to shut down dangerous properties, quickly and for good. Today’s legislation is designed to achieve both of these important goals while also protecting innocent parties, like landlords victimized by criminal tenants.”
Nuisance properties have been an issue in the Cowichan Valley, particularly in North Cowichan, for a number of years.
One problem property in North Cowichan alone cost the municipality and emergency services $13,200 over a 10-month period in 2016.
The property was connected to 93 calls for service to police and bylaw compliance offers in that time period.
At the time, the RCMP reported there were 22 properties in the municipality that had been singled out for having excessive calls for service, ranging from 13 to 167 calls.
North Cowichan does not currently have a nuisance property bylaw in place, but is working on one in continuing efforts to deal with the issue.
Siebring said the municipality still receives ongoing complaints about “crack shacks” and other nuisance properties.
He said he sees the province’s new strategy as a “positive step”.
Siebring said what really encourages him about the CSA is that the province will be supplying the enforcement aspect of the legislation, and local resources won’t be required.
“There are some civil libertarians out there who are complaining that the CSA could presume the guilt (of tenants), and it could be used by unscrupulous landlords to end tenancy agreements,” Siebring said.
“I understand these concerns, but the province is invested in this and will be actively involved so I expect they will use discretion. I’m quite happy the province is moving forward with this.”
RCMP Supt. Ted de Jager, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, said in the five other provinces and one territory with similar laws as CSA in place, most complaints are resolved without the need for application for a community safety order.
“There are properties that see hundreds of 911 calls for service because of an ever-changing group of criminals and offenders operating at those locations,” de Jager said. “The experiences of other jurisdictions with community safety laws show that working with the property owners can bring about lasting solutions benefiting public safety.”
Nino Morano, a bylaw enforcement officer with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said the CVRD enacted its unsightly premises bylaw several years ago to deal with problem houses.
“The bylaw has been fairly successful in our dealings with these properties, but all situations are different and the process can be lengthy when the courts have to get involved,” he said. “We’ve had no communications with the province regarding the CSA so I don’t have enough details to comment on it.”