Winnipeg Reassesses Fees, Derelict Building Options Amid Growing Challenges – Winnipeg
Winnipeg is casting a wider net to find solutions to the growing problem of dilapidated and vacant buildings.
It’s been a problem that rescuers and city officials have tried for years to get it under control, but it’s getting worse.
READ MORE: Derelict buildings in Winnipeg pose major risks to communities, first responders
“There are so many properties that are boarded up and unoccupied,” said Winnipeg Police Chief of Staff. That’s what Rob Duttchen told Global News. “Even if we had a unit of ten people working eight-hour days, they probably wouldn’t be able to get to all the properties every week.”
The city is currently enforcing the vacancy law on 615 properties around Winnipeg.
“It’s basically a property that’s not currently occupied or used,” said John Burney, the City of Winnipeg’s law enforcement coordinator. “It’s a variety of properties. Everything from (where) they are basically a burnt-out shell to fully conventionally secured full windows and doors and fully serviced.”
There are a wide variety of reasons why a building or property can get on the list to be enforced by officials.
“The whole thrust of the Vacant Building Ordinance is to encourage not having vacant buildings,” Burney said.
“We want sustainable communities, so we want them to be occupied or we want to demolish them so they can be rebuilt into something that can be used nearby.”
City police, fire brigade and municipal services are now working on a joint approach to tackle the problem.
Each has compiled lists of vacant and dilapidated buildings in the city, but now they are pooling resources to come up with a better plan of action to solve the problem.
It starts with following and prioritizing that list of problem properties. Police help identify some as officers attend situations where there is a current criminal element.
The fire brigade can signal that there are empty buildings present to get the fire under control, but they also try to be proactive.
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“We are putting out some light personnel who are now unable to fire to track and monitor the unsafe buildings and report them to the community ordinance so they can manage them,” said WFPS Asst. Chief Scott Wilkinson.
Currently, there are only five city inspectors with the ordinance department to work on the matter.
“Performing the inspections is the number one priority so we can get the current information about the current condition of those properties,” Burney said.
The city’s Vacancy Act allows the city to issue fines for boarded-up buildings and conduct annual inspections, with an option to issue fines for violations.
Owners of vacant buildings are required to secure their properties to ensure that people cannot enter. To close their properties, they must get a permit, which costs $2,517 the first year and increases by about $1,800 each year. Owners who fail to obtain a permit may be fined and the fee applied to their property taxes.
“The maintenance of a property comes down to the owner of the property,” Burney said. “They are ultimately responsible for their property. So what we’re going to do is educate that owner about his responsibilities, make sure he knows what to do, and give him a chance to do it.“
The city may be looking at higher fines and fees to incentivize owners to get started on repairs.
“We are evaluating our security entry standards, whether they are robust enough, and service cost options for repeated fires and buildings that are not secured or are not secured,” Wilkinson said.
They are also looking at what other jurisdictions are currently doing, such as Edmonton, which has an escalating approach.
Edmonton Fire Rescue Services has implemented a progressive process tolocating vacant properties. Once the property has been boarded up, the owner will receive a warrant to apply the next stage of progressive security if breached.
After realization, Phase 1 and Phase 2 must be maintained in conjunction with the following phases.
The property owner is responsible for covering all costs associated with securing his property.
“What we hope is that we learn best practices and that we don’t have to repeat some of the mistakes that have occurred in those jurisdictions,” Duttchen said.
“For example, if we give an order for the roof and they fail to fix that roof, we will look at issuing fines,” he said. “Then…we will issue a subpoena to compel them to appear in court.”
If the owner continues to break the rules, the property may eventually be seized and sold.
The city is also bringing in groups from housing and health authorities to discuss how best to expedite the cleanup and sanitation of the buildings, Wilkinson added.