Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Neglected-properties crackdown gains steam

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WINNIPEG is forcing more property owners to clean up their act.

Last year, the city remediated 155 properties and charged the owners for the cleanup on their tax bill -- up from 101 properties in 2011 and 68 the previous year.

The spike in enforcement comes as Winnipeg officials crack down on repeat offenders who refuse to get rid of trash or weeds in their yard.

Peter de Graaf, the manager of Winnipeg's community bylaw enforcement division, estimates between 30 and 40 per cent of the people ticketed for deficient property standards are residents who have repeatedly flouted city bylaws.

Winnipeg's neighbourhood livability bylaw stipulates property owners must ensure their yard is well-kept and free from things such as garbage or debris and noxious weeds.

Bylaw enforcement officers respond to complaints received through 311 and try to work with the property owner to fix the problem within a certain time frame. If owners don't comply, they will receive a notice to appear in court and could be fined up to $1,000, depending on a judge's ruling.

If residents continue to disregard the bylaw, the city will hire a contractor to get rid of the mess and bill the property owner for the work. Between 2010 and 2012, Winnipeg spent nearly $94,000 on remediation. Most property owners were billed about $475 for the cleanup, though some cost thousands of dollars, de Graaf said.

"They must think it's their right to do what they do," de Graaf said, noting garbage and blight can pose safety concerns and attract rodents. "If we see repeat violations, we may go right to a common offence notice."

The new neighbourhood livability bylaw was passed in 2008 and gave the city more power to deal with residents who neglect their properties. Officials started to issue steeper fines to residents who refused to comply.

Last year, the increased crackdown prompted a backlash from some property owners who alleged the city was out of line.

Island Lakes resident Richard Hykawy made headlines last summer when he challenged an order to mow the boulevard beside his home on the grounds it is akin to "slavery." The city added the cost of sending crews out to cut the grass and pull weeds to his annual property-tax bill.

De Graaf said the vast majority of people co-operate with the neighbourhood livability bylaw, and in many cases aren't aware it exists. He said the problem of garbage and debris on properties is the most common property complaint, particularly in Winnipeg's core, and residents have been supportive of the city's efforts to clean up neglected properties.

"It's needed and the community wants it," de Graaf said.

City data show bylaw enforcement officers have also ticketed people busted for illegal dumping. In 2011, Winnipeg handed out two tickets for illegal dumping. Last month, de Graaf said, the city has issued six tickets and is in the process of serving another 10. He said the city has taken a "zero-tolerance" policy.

Winnipeg also saw a decrease in the number of vacant and derelict building due to increased compliance with the bylaw. City bylaw officers issued 33 offence notices for vacant or derelict buildings in 2012, down from 109 the previous year.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 10:57 AM CST: replaces photo

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