The City of Ottawa wants owners of vacant properties to pay $1,703 annually for a permit so bylaw officers can do proactive inspections aimed at preventing problems and "demolition by neglect."
The proposed new bylaw was approved by the community and protective services committee Thursday. It comes less than two months after Ottawa city council approved a new tax on vacant residential properties set at one per cent of a property's assessed value.
The new permit regime would take effect Nov. 1, 2022, if approved at council next week, and would apply to buildings and lands that have been unoccupied for 120 days or more.
Some empty buildings in Ottawa have drawn widespread attention over many years, from Somerset House and the now-demolished West Coast Video on Bank Street, to Magee House in Hintonburg.
Residents in the Hintonburg and Mechanicsville areas, especially, have also drawn attention to the many other boarded-up homes along streets that can lead to headaches for neighbours because of break-ins, fires and garbage being piled up.
Last fall, city staff counted 216 vacant properties on its list, up from the 95 properties they knew about back in 2013. More than half of the properties are located in the central wards of Rideau-Vanier, Kitchissippi, and Somerset.
Contact number to be posted on-site
City staff say the new regime, with two dedicated bylaw officers paid thanks to the permit fees, will lead to proactive inspections instead of reactive ones.
As it currently stands, the city has just one dedicated officer assigned to deal with property standards at the properties, and their caseload has reached an "unsustainable" 800 investigations a year, staff report.
The new bylaw would require owners, or their agents, to visit properties every two weeks to check for problems. They'll also have to post a phone number on the building so residents can reach an owner about issues.
"This measure is to help resolve issues more quickly and, potentially, without the need of city intervention," explained public policy development manager Valerie Bietlot.
Of the 216 vacant properties, 110 have development plans on file with the city, but Bietlot said they too will be expected to pay the permit. It will be set at $1,450, but come to $1,703 after an administrative fee and the harmonized sales tax.
Under the proposed bylaw, the city says it will also be able to order work done on a property. If it's not, the city can complete the repairs and recover the costs on the property tax bill.
Those who contravene the bylaw can also face fines between $500 and $100,000.
"This has been a long time coming," noted Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose ward includes Somerset House.
The councillor, and many of their colleagues, doesn't want to see homes left empty given the need for housing in Ottawa.