Abandoned homes in downtown Gatineau are being used as parking lots in direct violation of city bylaws, a problem neighbours want fixed.
There are a number of abandoned homes on rue Kent and rue Laval, just steps away from the Place du Portage office complex.
While the properties sit vacant, their rear yards have become parking lots.
Three parking space holders that spoke to Radio-Canada said the spaces cost $200 per month to rent and that an employee of a nearby business handles the payments.
Municipal bylaws do not allow for paid parking lots on residential properties like these, which are owned by Boless, a construction firm.
The lots have information signs and the parking spots are clearly marked.
René Brisebois, who lives next door, said it feels like his neighbourhood is being abandoned and is frustrated that the City of Gatineau is not enforcing its own rules.
Radio-Canada reached out to Boless, but the company did not respond to multiple interview requests.
'Lack of political will'
Local activist Bill Clennett said illegal parking spots like this are an all too common practice in Old Hull.
He said the city has thrown in the towel on the issue and could solve the problem if it wanted to.
"It is not complex at all. There is simply a lack of political will," he said in a French-language interview.
The city hired an inspector in 2007 to target the problem and it successfully eliminated over 1,000 of these parking spots, taking dozens of people to court.
The elected officials of the time cancelled the position two years later.
Homeowners can face fines between $300 and $1,000 and businesses with illegal parking can be hit with larger fines, ranging from $600 to $2,000.
Clennett said that's not enough of a disincentive and people simply pay the fine and move on. He said the city could be more aggressive and close the lots, but it has chosen not to.
The city was not able to provide information on the number of fines it has handed out over the past three years.
It said four files on "non-compliant uses or parking irregularities" have been opened this year, but it said those could be for issues other than illegal parking.
Barrier to improvement
Stefan Psenak, general manager of downtown revitalization group Vision Centre-Ville de Gatineau, said that the owners and the public servants who are illegally renting the parking spaces are standing in the way of development by using the properties this way instead of allowing them to be developed or sold.
He said public servants are paying less than they would in a regulated lot.
Hull-Wright Coun. Cédric Tessier said he is irritated that people are lining their pockets with this scheme, while also leaving the homes abandoned.
"That annoys me even more [than unoccupied houses], because we know that downtown surface parking is a big problem," he said in a French-language interview.
Tessier said the city has trouble contacting property owners and provincial law limits their powers.