Council approves nuisance bylaw, despite opposition



Coun. Brian Skakun
Coun. Brian Skakun

Coun. Brian Skakun says opposition to the city’s new nuisance bylaw is misguided.

The Pivot Legal Society and LandlordBC have taken exception to the bylaw, which council gave fourth and final reading to Monday night.

“For the Pivot Legal Society to go after us is really unfortunate,” Skakun said at council Monday. “They didn’t watch the discussion and didn’t get the intent of the bylaw.”

The bylaw allows the city to charge property owners for the city’s costs in dealing with nuisance properties, such as repeated visits by the RCMP.

The Pivot Legal Society says the bylaw will have a “chilling effect” on calls for emergency assistance and called the bylaw “morally reprehensible.”

“Its potential to adversely affect the health and safety of vulnerable populations has not adequately been considered, and we therefore strongly urge you to abandon its enactment,” wrote D.J. Larkin, legal director for the society in a letter to city council.  “Contrary to the statement of Counsellor Brian Skakun, the bylaw will not have the effect of getting ‘people to clean up their act.’ Instead, it will discourage people in dire situations from calling for police, fire, and paramedic assistance.”

The city’s general manager of administrative services, Walter Babicz, told council that certainly isn’t the intent of the bylaw.

“The concerns that are noted are misplaced,” he told council. “The bylaw is not intended nor target 911. The city is not suggesting that 911 calls for emergency medical assistance or calls for RCMP assistance in a violent situation are a nuisance. The bylaw is directed at the owners or occupiers who, over an extended period of time, allow situations that meet the legal definitions of nuisance to continue without taking reasonable steps to control that nuisance.”

LandlordBC says the bylaw will increase costs for landlords.

“This proposed bylaw is wrought with unintended consequences including transferring increased costs to landlords that they will find difficult to recoup and, potentially forcing landlords to scrutinize prospective tenants much more aggressively thereby denying housing to a larger base of prospective renters and especially more vulnerable populations,” wrote David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC. “Increased scrutiny will raise a landlord’s risk to accusations of discriminatory practices and the costly consequences therein. This is an untenable situation for a responsible landlord. The bottom line is that it will be more difficult for the citizens of Prince George to obtain secure rental housing.”

Skakun wasn’t having any of it.

“They think it’s going to make it tougher to rent out places because they will have to scrutinize tenants a bit more,” said Skakun. “I think that’s a cop out. I think the responsibility is to scrutinize tenants to make sure they get good tenants in.”

The bylaw, which council approved Monday:

prohibits the use of land by an owner or occupier in a manner that creates a nuisance;

requires the owner or occupier of land to abate any nuisance that they create or allow to occur on the property that they own or occupy;

provides city council with the authority to order the owner or occupier of premises to abate a nuisance on or emanating from the premises;

authorizes the city through its employees, the RCMP or contractors to enter onto property and to abate a nuisance at the cost of the owner/occupier, where an owner/occupier fails to abate the nuisance (once having been ordered to do so by city council);

sets out a schedule of the hourly fees/rates that would be used to determine the cost of abatement that the owner/occupier is responsible for; and provides that the city may, amongst other things, recover the cost of abating a nuisance in the same manner as property taxes.