City-wide proactive enforcement of yard, parking, property standards favoured over licensing of absentee landlords

Additional staff have not been added to municipal law enforcement in 17 years

Barrie city council apparently is going to get serious about enforcing bylaws already on the books regarding yard maintenance, parking, and property standards.

Last week, council general committee gave tentative approval to an amendment to the business licensing bylaw that would require absentee landlords to obtain a business licence to rent out a single-family home, a semi-detached home, or a townhouse.

The three-year pilot project was to have begun in January 2022 and would have applied to properties bounded by Duckworth Street, Steel Street, Penetanguishene Road, and the city limits on the north side of Georgian Drive in Ward 1.

But at Monday’s council meeting, the motion was replaced with one introduced by Councillor Robert Thomson and approved that staff in the legislative and court services department prepare an intake form for the 2022 business plan for city-wide proactive enforcement of yard maintenance, parking, and property standards.

Thomson said the amendment to the business licensing bylaw would have put the city in a liability position, and added it would have become an administrative nightmare.

“It actually doesn’t affect the root problem of the parking and property maintenance stuff. I believe that if we had a proactive approach to the existing bylaws we wouldn’t be punishing the good landlords and creating an added cost,” he noted, referring to the affordability of rental units.

Councillor Clare Riepma, who represents Ward 1, and introduced the motion to crack down on absentee landlords, said moving to proactive enforcement city-wide was one of the solutions.

“I am content with that as long as we do it,” he said. “That’s the problem, right? We have lots of bylaws on the books that we never enforce, and that’s where the disappointment comes from.”

Staff told council the resources currently aren’t there for city-wide enforcement.

“The 2020 enforcement services review recommended additional staffing, as council may recall,” said Dawn McAlpine, general manager of corporate and community services. “Staff in the municipal law enforcement area has not increased in 17 years. The review recommended a minimum of two additional full-time staff for 2022, and that was not moving towards proactive enforcement. That was merely trying to catch up from 17 years of not hiring additional staff.”

The cost to implement and enforce the pilot project was estimated by staff to cost $756,000, including the hiring of six additional staff, of which 87 per cent would be recouped by charging a $967 fee per unit if 100 per cent of the estimated number of units, approximately 650, applied for licensing and the units did not require multiple inspections.

While no firm figure on new hires was included in the motion approved by city council on Monday, Thomson revealed in his discussions with staff he was told another four employees would be needed.

While he backed the new motion, Mayor Jeff Lehman said council had to be serious about this.

“Here’s the watch what you wish for because this one (city-wide enforcement) will come with a price tag that might be higher,” he said.

“Be aware that choosing this path may not save us money, may not save the taxpayer. In fact, it’s guaranteed to cost the taxpayer more because more of the funding for this approach would have to come out of general revenue.”

The mayor acknowledged he didn’t know this for sure but figured city-wide enforcement would probably be in the order of a few hundred thousand more in cost, at the most.

Staff told council that fines for parking generally don’t recover costs, though the city can charge an administrative fee within the yard maintenance and property standards bylaw if they have to go in and undertake a clean-up, but it’s not necessarily a fine-based approach.

“The difference with the amendment that’s proposed would be increasing staffing to actually be able to do proactive enforcement, where we literally are driving down the streets and noticing it prior to complaints coming in. Currently, that’s not an option,” said Tammy Banting, manager of enforcement services.

Councillor Keenan Aylwin noted that with the amendment to the licensing bylaw, it would still require that extra level of enforcement. He also had concerns about the high fee and the likelihood landlords would pass on the cost to tenants.

“We know there are people who own their homes who don’t take care of their properties. It’s not just rental properties that have these issues. I think by taking a city-wide approach and not limiting it to one area of the city, and not limiting to just looking at rental units, I think it’s a more fair approach and actually gets to the heart of the issue that residents want action on, and that’s addressing these property standards to the best of our ability.”

While Riepma did not get the pilot project he was hoping for, Thomson praised him for his efforts and getting the conversation started.