A longtime Oakville homeowner is accusing the town of wasting resources and running a "recovery fee scam" after bylaw officers removed a real estate sign from her front lawn without any warning.
Reshma Niazi was stunned to learn the town charges residents $59 fee to recover confiscated signs. In an email, she said she wants her money refunded.
"I'm not an accountant, but this makes absolutely no sense to me," Niazi said "There's much better things a town could be doing with their inspectors."
Niazi and her husband put their home at 2315 Bennington Gate for sale in late July, at which point the couple's Realtor placed a For Sale sign near the edge of the property's front lawn.
On Sunday Aug. 11, the sign mysteriously vanished.
The next day, Niazi was informed by her Realtor that bylaw officers removed the sign because it was placed on town land, across the unmarked boundary where her property ends and Oakville's begins.
An Oakville spokesperson confirmed to CBC Toronto that the sign was removed because it was found to "overhang town property."
Sign posts in that position "may damage gas, electrical or phone lines that are buried within the town's road allowance," said Jill MacInnes in an email.
Homeowner didn't know boundary
"I actually had no idea that this piece of land didn't belong to me because I am expected to water it, to shovel it, to look after it," Niazi said, standing over a hole in the grass where the sign used to stand. She has owned the home for 16 years.
Niazi is now criticizing the town for what she perceives as a draconian and inconsiderate approach to enforcing a little-known bylaw.
"I would not have a problem moving it a couple of feet back, if that's what I'm required to do," she added. "The problem here is that they've just missed that first step."
Across the street, the town recently removed another real estate sign. In that case, the sign was deemed an additional advertisement placed at the top of a private laneway.
The Realtor for the neighbouring home was equally confused when he learned about what he called the "rude" procedure.
"We want the town to be in good order, we don't want the signs to be everywhere,' said Peter He. "Give us a chance to correct it ourselves instead of just going ahead and removing it."
Bylaw updated in January
Prior to 2019, Oakville did provide an early warning to real estate agents and homeowners who placed signs in contravention of local bylaws, but a new policy enacted this year shifted the town's enforcement strategy.
As a result of the change, the town's bylaw officers now remove contravening signs as soon as they are identified.
So far this year, Oakville has removed 59 "temporary real estate signs" under the new policy, including Niazi's.
The new approach was approved by council after public consultations with the Oakville real estate board and residents about its signage bylaws.
"There was pretty overwhelming support for a shift in the strategy," said Coun. Janet Haslett-Theall, who represents Ward 3, where Niazi lives.
During the consultations, Haslett-Theall said people were concerned that Realtors and advertisers were putting up too many signs and that signage bylaws were not being consistently enforced.
"Do I think that we should drive up every street and pull out the measuring tape, and that's at the top of the list? Of course not," she told CBC Toronto. "But if you are in violation, you're in violation."
A return to the old system
After her ordeal, Niazi is putting forward a few possible solutions, ranging from changing the bylaw itself to having officers remove signs but toss them onto the offending property's lawn.
The simplest solution, she said, is to merely go back to the prior warning system, which she finds more considerate and efficient.
Niazi said she counted four separate town workers involved in the removal, storage and retrieval of her real estate sign.
"I have an issue with every part of the process," she said.
Haslett-Theall said the town would reconsider the approach if enough residents come forward with concerns.
In nearby Toronto, enforcement officers are permitted to immediately remove any real estate sign that violates bylaws, though the city said it only takes that step when there is an immediate safety concern.