Saint John councillor wants building owners to pay more of demolition costs

A Saint John councillor says too much of the cost for the removal of vacant and dilapidated buildings is being borne by the municipality.

Donna Reardon says inspection, administrative and legal costs can tie up city staff for months, leaving the property owner responsible only for the costs of physically demolishing the building and removing the debris.

At a recent council meeting, city staff presented 70 pages of background documents to councillors considering the removal of two buildings in the city's south end.

"It's a lot of staff resource time," said Reardon. "We have all that prep work, which is probably worth more than the cost of the demolition, I'm not sure, but there's a lot of staff time tied up in that."

Waiting for costs estimates

Currently, the city encourages property owners to fix up or demolish dilapidated buildings on their own.

If that fails, the municipality hires a contractor to remove the building and sends the bill to the owner. If the bill is not paid, the city applies for reimbursement from the province, which can recoup the debt by selling the property in a tax sale.

Reardon said it makes sense to add administrative and legal costs to that bill.

At her request, staff have agreed to begin tracking their work on derelict property cases to come up with average associated staff time and costs.

Connell Smith, CBC

In 2018, under the dangerous and vacant building program, the city demolished 27 buildings and pushed property owners to voluntarily demolish another six.

So far this year the city has knocked down five buildings with owners again taking down six.

Such was the case Tuesday with a century-old, three-storey, wood-frame apartment house at 174 Pitt St.

Neighbour Curtis Earle watched from across the street as an excavator loaded a dump truck with debris.

He told CBC News the building should have been removed years ago.

"It was falling down," Earle said. "It was all crooked inside, the ceilings fell down."

He said the property, a corner lot at Pitt and Mecklenburg streets, will be attractive to developers.

The building and property were assessed at $10,300 for an annual tax bill of $306.

Low assessments don't help

Reardon said many of the vacant properties demolished by the city have been assessed well below market value, leaving little incentive for owners to fix them up.

She said the owners also ask the city to turn off water and sewage, meaning further municipal revenue is lost.

The registered owner of the Pitt Street property, J. Frederick Savoy of Quispamsis, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A spokesperson said the provincial Department of Finance would respond Wednesday to a request for comment.