Problem homes ‘bring down a neighbourhood’

Police, fire and the City of Abbotsford identify nuisance properties and work together to clean them up.

The property of a problem home on Gladys Avenue was recently cleaned up.

The property of a problem home on Gladys Avenue was recently cleaned up.

Cleanup has been completed of a Gladys Avenue property that was among the city’s nuisance properties, but a dozen more are still on the list.

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said there are about 12 residences that are considered problems by the police department, the City of Abbotsford, and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service.

The three agencies work together to single out these properties and try to make changes.

MacDonald said the homes can be pinpointed for a variety of reasons. In some cases, they are abandoned or derelict properties that have been taken over by squatters.

Others have ongoing bylaw issues, such as fire code infractions, neglected yards, or piles of junk stored on site.

Still others are the subject of numerous calls to police for issues such as stolen property, noise and drug trafficking.

MacDonald said it often takes just one bad tenant to bring problems to an area and attract like-minded people.

The bottom line is such homes can bring down a neighbourhood, he said.

“If you have a problem residence on your street, it will affect your perception of safety … It can increase the likelihood of break-ins or the feeling that you’re vulnerable.”

The goal is to resolve issues at each location within three months, although dealing with an absentee or non-compliant landlord or property management company can prolong the process.

Gordon Ferguson, manager of bylaw enforcement, said the city first tries to gain voluntary compliance, but when that doesn’t happen, legal action can commence.

The city can then step in and ensure the work is completed – such as grass mowing, the removal of garbage or, in extreme cases, the demolition of a building.

The costs are then billed back to the owner – for example, $10,000 to $25,000 for a demolition.

In the case of the property located in the 34000 block of Gladys Avenue, the city began the process in 2011 to obtain a court order to force the owner to clean up the site.

Ferguson said the city had received numerous complaints about the property, which had a mountain of debris piled in the backyard and a large boat stored in the front. As well, squatters had put up tents on the property.

Police had been to the scene countless times, including the arrest in July 2011 of a 42-year-old man. Twelve guns were seized from the home.

Owner George Penner said tenants who lived on the property for two years were to blame.

He had the property cleaned up just over two weeks ago, following an order from the city, and said he had been making arrangements to move the saltwater fishing boat from the front yard.

Last Thursday, he received a call that the city was on the property. By the time he arrived, the boat had been demolished and was being dumped into a container.

Ferguson said the city had enforced a court order to move the vessel, and Penner will be billed for the expense.

The tenants have since been evicted, and a property management company has taken over, with plans to renovate the home and rent it out to new tenants, who will be properly screened.

MacDonald said most situations with problem homes are resolved either with enforcement by police, the issuing of fines for bylaw infractions, or assisting property owners with the demolition process.