Unsightly properties are not only concerning to neighbours, they can be challenging to enforce, said County of Grande Prairie Regional Enforcement Services Sargeant Kim Donecz.
Donecz spoke to Sexsmith town council about the issue on Sept. 7.
By definition, an “unsightly property” is any that “looks like it has a general lack of maintenance or upkeep,” said Donecz. She noted that could include garbage, containers, appliances, overgrown grass, or animal feces.
Donecz said there are two pieces of legislation to determine if a site is unsightly; one under the local municipality and the second under the Municipal Government Act.
If a compliant is received, officers will investigate to see if the property can be deemed unsightly or unsafe under the legislation.
“We actually have a really short window of time to do (an investigation) because we have to consider spring, summer, fall and winter,” said Donecz.
If enforcement services enter a property when it is too wet, damage can be caused that would then be a cost to the enforcement services, noted Donecz.
“Spring generally is not an opportune time for us; we will start the paperwork, we will give (offenders) notice in the spring, but to actually take action is difficult.”
Summer is the ideal time for enforcement, but in the South Peace, it is short-lived, she explained. As the season moves to autumn and the snow hits the ground, enforcement measures have to stop.
“We don't know what's under the snow,” Donecz said.
“We can't risk any of the people that are going to be doing the cleanup, and we can't risk any of the officers that are doing the investigation,” she said.
It leaves enforcement with a short window of late spring to early fall to get investigations and enforcement completed.
She said that it's not uncommon to take two years to do a cleanup on a property, especially when homeowners are unco-operative.
Many of the unsightly property owners have to be served a notice in person as many people will not accept it otherwise.
Donecz said that a notice to the property owner will be given first that includes a “reasonable deadline” to comply.
If not, a violation ticket of approximately $150 would be issued. Then, an order under the provincial act would be issued.
The fine for failure to comply with a provincial order is $1,000, said Donecz.
She said that many of the problem properties are often vacant.
Further difficulties come when property owners are out of town or even the country, or the property is in escrow or transition due to a sale.
She sympathizes with frustrated residents, saying that when officers see the same cases on their computer for over six months that they can’t close, it frustrates them too.
“I've done over 1,000 premises, and 99 per cent of the time, once you give that order, there is compliance, and we don't have to go in on the property,” she said.
Donecz said that almost all investigations into unsightly properties come from complaints from the municipality or a resident.
She said that officers prefer when residents call them first to ensure members can get all the information they need. Still, residents should call the town if enforcement services don’t get to it.
In Sexsmith, officers have investigated 16 unsightly premises this year, with eight to nine of them being repeat offenders.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News