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This article was published 15/5/2020 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE City of Winnipeg has been told it can’t speed up seizures of properties linked to meth-related crimes but it could require owners to better protect those buildings.
As part of the city’s effort to address the meth crisis, Winnipeg’s public service studied whether council could more rapidly take title of properties without compensation when they’ve been the site of crime "due to negligent or deceased owners." That would primarily aim to crack down on the use of empty buildings to sell or use meth.
"Those (vacant buildings can be) a magnet for all sorts of things undesirable for a neighbourhood, whether it is drug trafficking, drug use, exploiting people, other things that we just simply don’t want," said Michael Jack, Winnipeg’s chief corporate services officer, in an interview Thursday.
Jack, who wrote a report on the issue, noted the city doesn’t have the power to expedite seizures of those properties. He said Winnipeg already moves as fast as possible on seizures, which are guided by provincial legislation and tend to take about 10 months.
"When you’re taking title to a property, that is a pretty severe consequence for a property owner. The province rightly puts some very strict conditions around it," said Jack.
He said the city could, however, impose new security requirements on the owners of vacant buildings that are found to be used for criminal activity, by ordering them to add security cameras, extra lighting and/or security guards at the sites at their own expense.
If owners fail to follow those orders, the cost could then be tacked onto their property tax bills, Jack said.
The report doesn’t call upon council to implement the changes, but lists them as potential options.
If council pursues the change, Jack said the city could set criteria for an order to be issued.
"It could be something as simple as more than one police call for something related to drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, etc., within a month at a vacant property or within a year (to trigger an order)," he said.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), the chairman of council’s property and development committee, said he’s open to the idea, since the city believes meth use has reached a crisis level.
"These vacant buildings have been identified as a problem. If we could do something to address that, we should," said Mayes.
The councillor said he is concerned, however, that such orders could be prone to owner appeals and might be difficult to apply.
"It could get very legalistic would be my concern, in terms of what is vacant, what isn’t and what is required … It looks good on paper but do we end up with 10 new appeals a month from property owners?" said Mayes.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.