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Resolutions

Vacant and Derelict Properties

Year: 2014

Resolution

Whereas derelict properties can be an obstacle to the positive economic, social, and cultural development of a community; and Whereas Saskatchewan legislation gives municipalities the ability to encourage property revitalization through the use of tax exemptions, it does not provide specific authority for municipalities to penalize owners who permit derelict properties to remain in a state of perpetual neglect; and Whereas it is considered desirable to have The Cities Act, The Municipalities Act, and The Northern Municipalities Act amended to provide municipalities the option of introducing tools and strategies to motivate the owners of derelict properties to improve and maintain such properties to an acceptable standard; and Whereas in order to discourage the perpetual neglect by property owners, who maintain property in a derelict condition which negatively impact surrounding properties and the community as a whole, municipalities need to be given the direct authority enabling them to impose escalating fees, fines and increased tax burdens on those individuals and owners; Therefore be it resolved that The Cities Act, The Municipalities Act, and The Northern Municipalities Act be amended to enable municipalities to pass bylaws to: 1. regulate the condition and maintenance of vacant dwellings and non-residential buildings through a permit process which includes escalating fees, fines, and other penalties on non-compliant owners of vacant and nuisance properties; 2. establish a process for issuing preliminary derelict building orders, second notices, and derelict building certificates in respect of derelict properties by which a municipality may take title to vacant and derelict buildings; and, 3. clearly define what constitutes a derelict property inclusive of vacant buildings, nuisance properties, and contaminated properties. Background Derelict properties can be an obstacle to the positive economic, social, and cultural development of a community. Even a single derelict building can bring down the value of surrounding properties and businesses, pushing development elsewhere, and encouraging the type of inefficient sprawl that carries with it significant economic and environmental implications. While The Cities Act gives cities in Saskatchewan the ability to encourage property revitalization through the use of tax exemptions, it does not provide specific authority for municipalities to penalize property owners who permit derelict properties to remain in a state of perpetual neglect. Section 263(5) of The Cities Act states that “a council may, for the purpose of economic development in the municipality, provide tax exemptions for land or improvements, or both.” However, while municipalities have the option of using this power to promote the redevelopment of urban centers or “brownfield sites” (dormant properties which usually require environmental remediation), The Cities Act gives limited discretion to municipalities to impose direct punitive measures in relation to derelict properties. There are a number of reasons why property owners might allow a building to remain perpetually derelict. One reason is that simply allowing a property to remain in a derelict state may avoid increased property tax assessments, allowing the owner to avoid the higher taxes that may come with improvements. In addition, if the property's value has increased significantly since the time the owner purchased it, he or she may be responsible for paying significant capital gains tax if the property is sold. In order to correct for these negative economic incentives, municipalities need to be given the direct authority to impose fines and increased tax burdens on those individuals who maintain property in a derelict condition, thereby negatively impacting surrounding properties and the community as a whole. The Cities Act's current provisions which permit municipalities to take remedial action with respect to property are too narrowly defined to allow for councils to introduce comprehensive bylaws containing effective penalties. For example, section 8(1)(d) of The Cities Act gives a municipality the limited power to take remedial action to address nuisances. In addition, section 8(1)(a) of The Cities Act allows for a council to regulate and impose prohibitions in relation to buildings and other structures only in very specific situations, including if the “health, safety or protection of persons or property” is at issue. There is no provision in The Cities Act that explicitly allows for the imposition of fines or surtaxes on the owners of derelict or vacant property. An example of what could be accomplished by municipalities under an amended The Cities Act can be seen in the City of Winnipeg's “Vacant and Derelict Buildings By-law,” which allows the city to impose escalating fees based on the length of time a building remains vacant. The Winnipeg bylaw also allows for escalating fines and other penalties on non-compliant owners of vacant properties. The Winnipeg bylaw is only one example of what could be accomplished by Saskatchewan municipalities if The Cities Act is amended to allow for individual municipalities to decide how best to provide the much needed motivation for owners of derelict properties to begin the revitalization process. It would be this city's recommendation to the provincial government that it amend The Cities Act to give municipalities the option of introducing tools and strategies to motivate the owners of derelict properties to improve and maintain such properties; specifically by empowering municipalities to pass bylaws to: 1. regulate the condition and maintenance of vacant dwellings and non-residential buildings through a permit process, which includes escalating fees, fines and other penalties on non-compliant owners of vacant properties; 2. establish a process for issuing preliminary derelict building orders, second notices and derelict building certificates in respect of derelict properties by which a municipality may take title to vacant and derelict buildings; and, 3. clearly define what constitutes a derelict property, which would include vacant buildings and contaminated properties.

Provincial Response

The three municipal Acts provide cities and municipalities with broad bylaw-making powers in areas of jurisdiction and specific authority does not need to be provided to pass bylaws within these areas of jurisdiction. Property maintenance and/or nuisance abatement bylaws have been passed by several cities and municipalities in Saskatchewan under the current legislation. Referring to The Cities Act, clause 8(1)(d), provides cities the authority to pass bylaws regarding "nuisances, including property, activities or things that affect the amenity of a neighbourhood". Claude 8(1)(l) provides further authority for bylaws regarding the abandonment, decommissioning, dismantling and removal of any use, building or structure and the reclamation of land. These would enable the bylaws requested by this resolution, including the ability to clearly define what constitutes a derelict property. Subsection 8(2) further provides for the power to enforce bylaws through a wide variety of fines and penalties for non-compliance, including daily fines for continuing offences, and penalties that are in addition to fines or imprisonment. Subsection 8(3) provides that a bylaw may regulate, prohibit and deal with different developments and activities in different ways and provide for a system of licences, inspections, permits and approvals. The Act also provides ability for the city to remedy bylaw contraventions and to add these costs to a property owner's taxes. These same provisions are also found in the other two municipal Acts. Municipalities may also use provisions of The Uniform Building and Accessibility Standards Act (UBASA) to issue orders for unsafe conditions and take immediate action when a building poses an imminent danger. This Act: - requires property owners to build, maintain, renovate and demolish buildings according tot he building standards; - requires local authorities to administer and enforce the provisions of UBASA, the Regulations and orders of the appeal board; - enables local authorities to pass bylaws prescribing building standards in addition to the building standards contained in the regulations where the local authority considers the bylaws necessary for the health, safety or welfare of persons; and - enables local authorities to make bylaws regarding the issuing of permits for construction, maintenance, renovation, demolition, use and occupancy of buildings, and the fees to be charged for such permits. Having said this, the ministry is open to considering improvements to legislation where needed and appropriate. The ministry would work with stakeholder representatives to examine the issues and consider any necessary changes the next time the Acts are open for amendment.

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