Surplus of abandoned homes frustrates Bankview residents

The community of Bankview is known for its views of downtown Calgary and boasts some pretty coveted — and often pricey — real estate.

But some residents say they are tired of being surrounded by a mess that is driving down their property values and bringing social disorder to their street.

"Who would buy my house? Nobody would buy this house. I couldn't give it away right now," said Bankview resident Tom Campbell.

Campbell bought his bungalow 25 years ago. He takes pride in his property. The yard and exterior of his home are immaculately kept. He used to love the view from his front window but not anymore.

"I see a house that's been abandoned for eight years now to the north of me, and across the street seven more houses that have been abandoned just since the fall," he said.

Those houses have been purchased for redevelopment and so far there is every indication the redevelopment will go ahead. Campbell and his neighbours hope that happens sooner, rather than later.

Elissa Carpenter/CBC

They point to that other house — the one Campbell referenced has been sitting vacant for the past eight years — as an example of how empty houses can attract problems.

"For eight years I have had to look at that and there have been chronic problems," said Campbell .

"I mean, it's scary, there's no one living in these houses so at nighttime there are people squatting in there. One night I came home and there was a guy who was absolutely going crazy in the back yard there and it took four police officers to get him subdued," he continued.

Ryan Gillick lives across the street from the problem house. He said at one time it was luxurious. It is large, and towers over nearly every other house in sight. It has a stone exterior and a balcony on every level.

When it was purchased, Gillick said he had high hopes it would be renovated or torn down and replaced.

"They're squatting in it," said Gillick. "There's a lot of social disorder and thievery that I have noticed as well from people coming into the neighbourhood and stuff is going missing from yards, and they come into my yard and rummage around and things go missing."

Elissa Carpenter/CBC

For the most part the house is well secured. Nearly all of the doors and windows are tightly boarded. Except one.

The large sliding window at the rear of the house is open pretty much all of the time according to Gillick.  

It's big enough and low enough to the ground that just about anyone can gain entry inside.

If someone does go in, their foot will meet a narrow ledge. 

Below the ledge is an empty concrete swimming pool filled with broken glass, old window frames, nails and other debris.

"Someone is going to get really hurt or killed," said Gillick. "Just tear it down. Stop giving them a place to go."

How long can a home sit vacant and boarded up?

Ryan Pleckaitis is the City of Calgary's chief bylaw officer.

"There's no specific piece of legislation that I'm aware of that is explicit that states that a building, for example, can only be boarded up for so long. Time the property has been boarded up is one consideration when we take into account problems associated with any of these properties.

"So things like, has it been declared unfit for human habitation? We look at the exterior condition of the property, if the property has been targeted with graffiti or if it's being accessed illegally. When we make a determination to say that a property has to be demolished, that needs to be proportionate to the totality of the offense," he said.

Pleckaitis said the house in Bankview is an example of what's happening in many established neighbourhoods.  He points out some in other areas of Calgary have been sitting idle longer than the Bankview home.

He said the economy was better when investors and developers bought up lots of old properties, with intentions of redevelopment.

The economy turned and many couldn't afford to continue with their real estate plans. 

Glut of old homes a growing concern

Pleckaitis said the city knows the glut of old houses is a growing concern.

"We do have a program in the city called the Community Response Team which we have recently just kind of relaunched. So we have support from the Calgary Police Service, Community Standards, Alberta Health Services, Calgary Building Services, so we have really adopted a multi-disciplinary approach to try and overcome the multitude of problems that can arise from these locations," he said.

Pleckaitis said the city is working on solutions. Ideas include the possibility of a different taxation stream for landlords who abandon properties.

Tom Campbell has his own idea. He and Gillick plan to push the city to enact a bylaw that would limit how long a house can sit before the owners must begin re-construction or de-construction.

"I pay $3,600 a year in property taxes and nobody should have to look at this view," said Campbell