If owners of derelict properties refuse to comply with the city's orders to clean them up, they'll be called out on the city's website.
Along with signs on the properties themselves, publishing a hit list of the city's unmet orders to maintain crumbling vacant buildings on ottawa.ca is one of the strategies the city will use to crack down on landowners who leave structures in disrepair.
That new strategy was revealed to the city's community and protective services committee during an April 18 meeting along with a rundown of current measures and future ideas to clean up rundown empty buildings. The report was a follow-up to a commitment Mayor Jim Watson and some of his council colleagues made at a press conference six weeks ago.
After years of leniency, the crackdown means the city is enforcing its property standards bylaw more strictly. Two city bylaw officers have already been tackling a list of derelict properties - both vacant and in use - and issuing orders for maintenance.
"Our goal now, as of this day, to look forward and say ... .your building might be vacant, but from the street you won't notice it," said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who has the highest concentration of derelict vacant buildings in his ward.
That extends to occupied buildings such as rooming houses. The city has partnered with ACORN, a low-income and tenant advocacy organization, to proactively deal with negligent landlords.
So far, the partnership has resulted in the discovery of 518 deficiencies in four buildings. The city issues a total of 73 orders for issues in those four buildings to be cleaned up.
New strategies to crack down on derelict properties will be drafted through consultations starting in June and presented to the committee in September. Some of the ideas staff will look at include:
- Limiting tax reductions property owners receive if their buildings are vacant.
- Setting higher maintenance standards to improve the appearance of buildings and prevent them from detracting.
- Requiring property owners to buy a licence if they want to keep their property vacant.
Watson said he had a question for property owners who refuse to comply with the city's orders to repair their buildings: "Why don't you take pride in your community and your property?"
A hint of the answer came from a couple delegates who spoke to the committee on behalf of property owner interests.
John Dickie of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization said there are many circumstances, financial or otherwise, that could result in a property ending up in a poor state.
Owners sometimes avoid spending money to maintain their buildings so they have enough resources left to invest in rebuilding or redeveloping it, Dickie said.
"It's a tradeoff. (A) tradeoff between waste of money and impact on the neighbour," he said. "It has impacts on neighbours, and we admit that."
Shirley Dolan, president of the Carleton Landowners Association, wondered why the city thought owners would be more willing to pour money into their properties now, when the economy is in a downturn, compared to previous decades when owners likely had more financial resources, but still didn't maintain their buildings to the city's standard.
Dolan said "beauty is in the eye of the beholders.
"I really don't think that bullying property owners into improvements because you don't like the look of the property is the way to go," she said.
The city should be more lenient in letting owners tear down buildings they don't want to maintain, Dickie said.
"What's wrong with a vacant lot? I grew up across from a vacant lot," he said.
Via Laura Mueller for EMC Ottawa