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Council getting tough on old buildings

Ghalib Rawji purchased Northumberland Court a few years ago and tore down the buildings, but the lot remains vacant. - News Files
Ghalib Rawji purchased Northumberland Court a few years ago and tore down the buildings, but the lot remains vacant.
— image credit: News Files

Council is about to get heavy with owners of dilapidated buildings, hitting them with a fee of up to $2,400 each time an old structure requires a fire department inspection.

The fee is the maximum charged under an escalating structure that starts at $150 when a fire inspector has to check out an abandoned building.

Maple Ridge politicians looked over the Vacant and Abandoned Building Bylaw at its Monday committee meeting.

“This is designed to give us an effective tool to deal with vacant and derelict buildings in our community, in a timely and effective manner,” fire chief Dane Spence told council.

It tries to be fair to the owner of an old building, “But it clearly puts the onus for this problem right back where it belongs – on the person who owns the property.

“We’re trying to send a message that we shouldn’t be doing business this way.”

Time is a key part of the bylaw.

Property owners will no longer have months or years to decide what to do with a building – unless they want to keep paying pricey inspection fees.

That’s because owners will have only a month to apply for reductions in those inspection fees, which can be up to 75 per cent, by either applying for a demo or reno permit that shows they’re either tearing down the building or fixing it up.

If they wait beyond that, they’ll have to pay the full amount any time firefighters have to reinspect the building, which means $150 for the first reinspection, $300 for the next, $600 for the third and $1,200 for the fourth. After that, fees top out at $2,400 each time the fire department has to check on safety or security of a building. The fees match those charged for the false alarm bylaw.

Spence, though, said it’s impossible to keep people out of vacant buildings for long.

“If you keep it vacant, you’re subject to re-inspection fees,” he added.

“That changes that person’s business model. Maybe they were going to leave it there … but this can be a game changer for them. I do not anticipate it being there for years.”

The bylaw also allows the district to secure a building, then also charge the owner the cost of doing that.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie wanted to know if the bylaw could require owners to use paint that matches the colour of the building, for the plywood sheets that are used to board up windows and if the district could require proper fencing, if the owner was going to wait more than 30 days before a decision on the building.

Some cities in Ontario require it, she added.

“I just really feel that we have to make sure that we’re going after folks who are purchasing properties and letting them sit.”

The bylaw complements the district’s Untidy, Unsightly Premises Bylaw, which requires owners to clean up junky yards or have the district do it, and add the costs to the property tax bill.

Coun. Al Hogarth questioned if it was fair to declare a building vacant or abandoned simultaneously, when the owner may simply be trying to find a tenant. He said it wouldn’t be fair to require a landlord to board up a building if it’s just vacant.

The bylaw, though, defines what is a vacant building – one that’s unsecured and unoccupied because it’s unfinished or run down or fire damaged – where fire could quickly spread.

Spence pointed out the owner of a restaurant likely was happy the district recently boarded it up and saved the building from further damage.

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