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Councillors want to give vacant properties bylaw more teeth

Coun. Rick Niro will ask staff to report back to council with ways to give bylaw officers additional resources to enforce the Yard Maintenance Bylaw as it pertains to vacant properties
The owner of a property at 251-253 Wellington St. East was recently ordered to secure the building from unauthorized entry. The owner, Happy Gilmore, Inc., is a company based in Burlington, Ontario.

Some Sault Ste. Marie real estate is being bought up by out-of-towners with seemingly no intention of occupying or maintaining the properties, says Ward 2 councillor Luke Dufour. He calls them ‘white collar squatters’ and wants to see greater penalties for the eyesores they leave.

Just over a year ago, the city enacted a new Property Standards Bylaw, the yard stick by which the city measures how properties are maintained. It includes keeping yards free of waste and keeping grass, trees and bushes maintained, among other rules property owners have to live by.

Dufour said one lingering problem is the number of properties in the Sault being purchased by people from out of town and being left vacant.

Dufour said he welcomes out-of-town investment in the Sault, but in some cases properties are being purchased, with no apparent intention of maintaining them.

“These companies seem to be just like white collar squatters in town, with no attempt being made to renovate the property, rent the property, maintaining the property or cutting the grass,” said Dufour in a phone interview on Friday. “They just seem to be sitting there.”

Some of the company names purchasing these properties are downright bizarre. For instance, Happy Gilmore, Inc. is the owner of a building at 251-253 Wellington St. E. that was recently ordered to comply with the Property Standards Bylaw.

Happy Gilmore is a 1996 comedy film starring Adam Sandler, in which he plays a hockey player turned golfer.

The property was purchased in March by Happy Gilmore, Inc. for $165,000.

“Some of the names from films and things like that I have seen posted on the outside of these buildings in a public place has raised my suspicion there might be something more going on with some of these buildings,” said Dufour.

On May 31, the property owners were ordered by city bylaw to ensure the building was secured against unauthorized entry. 

In a motion that will go before council on Monday, Dufour is asking city staff for an overview of the changes in the updated Property Standards Bylaw, as well as an update as to how well it is working.

“I want staff to have a chance to explain to the public what some of those changes are, what some of the new things we have been doing and what the successes have been while also having a chance to talk about the challenges,” said Dufour.

Ward 4 councillor Rick Niro is bringing forward a related resolution asking city staff to look into stiffer fines and other penalties for land owners who don’t properly maintain vacant properties.

“This motion I have put forward specifically talks to the yards maintenance bylaw,” said Niro by phone on Friday. “What I have seen is there are a lot of repeats on these year maintenance issues, specifically long grass. What I have also noticed is some properties are owned by the same owner and our bylaw doesn’t address that.”

Land owners are required to ensure their properties are maintained up to standards spelled out in the city’s Property Standards By-Law, including keeping yards free of waste and keeping grass, trees and bushes maintained, among others.

“Some of these properties that I am referring to have probably not had yard maintenance for the whole season,” said Niro. “It’s quite unattractive, it’s quite a nuisance to the neighbouring properties, the people who live next door to this or across the street. It’s become a problem.”

Niro’s resolution, which will be heard at Monday’s meeting of city council, asks city staff to explore ways to give bylaw officers additional resources to enforce the Yard Maintenance Bylaw as it pertains to vacant properties, including significant fines and higher administrative charges.

“Especially where there are repeat offenders where we are dealing with the same properties every year and nothing happens until we process them through our bylaw enforcement officer. It’s a lot of wasted time and money for our bylaw department and it just seems some property owners don’t care,” said Niro. “The intent is to try and clean this up, try to have the bylaw be more aggressive to see if we can arrive at a solution to this.”

In May, SooToday reported on a vacant building at 62-68 Wellington St. W. which was overrun with garbage in the rear of the property facing on to Edinburgh Street. That buildng was purchased last year by a numbered company also out of Burlington.


Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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