Port Hardy council is fed up with several derelict apartment buildings in town, and they are ready to do something about it.
At their July 14 meeting, council looked over a minimum rental property standards bylaw that was recently passed in Quesnel, and it caused quite the lively discussion between councillors.
“We do know there is an accommodation in our community where there has been, on a number of occasions, a lack of hot water altogether, and we do know there are some other accommodations in Port Hardy unfortunately that aren’t being kept up very well with regards to fire and safety precautions,” stated Mayor Dennis Dugas, who then asked Coun. Fred Robertson to expand on the issue.
“It came up in my other job that I have [North Island MLA Claire Trevena’s local rep], and it was a call about an ongoing issue in a rental property with no hot water, and one of the suggestions we always make is to have a discussion with landlords through the Residential Tenancy Branch and lodge a complaint and have it go through a complaint process,” Robertson said. “I talked with a few other people and one of the people I’ve talked to said the problem is … if there is no supporting bylaw within a community, they will simply say ‘well, what are the requirements in the community according to the bylaws’ and right now for us, it is that water is provided to the premise.”
Robertson then stated they need a bylaw in place that says that a rental premise should offer heat and hot and cold water, which are “pretty basic human rights.”
Coun. Leightan Wishart then jumped into the conversation at that point, noting that the living conditions inside a specific building in town “are absolutely horrendous, they haven’t had hot water for quite some time now, and apparently the owner of the property says he doesn’t have enough money to repair the heating … the hot water system in that building is absolutely mickey mouse.”
He added that he loves the look of this bylaw. “I read it from the very first letter to the very last letter, and I think we should adopt this bylaw immediately and then start enforcing it — my only regret with this bylaw is it doesn’t cover commercial buildings.”
Wishart stated there are two specific commercial buildings in town he wants to see cleaned up as he feels they make the town look bad when tourists come to visit, before circling back to the discussion on the apartment buildings. “I’m really quite frustrated with the fact that currently council’s hands are sort of tied as to our ability to what we can actully do to correct it. I understand the people who live in this building are not multi-millionaires, but I don’t care, they deserve the basic neccessities — hot and cold running water, a toilet that works, heat in the winter time — I don’t think that’s unreasonable to expect that.”
“I agree that we need to have a bylaw that has minimum standards,” stated Coun. Pat Corbett-Labatt, “I would move to recommend that staff start drafting a minimum rental property standards bylaw for Port Hardy, and I appreciate councillor Wishart’s advocacy and enthusiasm, but I think we need to go through the process of making sure it works for our town, and do the proper steps.”
Coun. John Tidbury seconded the motion and then stated he wants fire safety precautions added to the bylaw as well.
Heather Nelson-Smith, director of corporate services, stated while staff agrees with the bylaw 100 per cent, she cautioned that they shouldn’t jump into this too fast. “There’s a few things we have to take into consideration, there’s some legalities.”
Nelson-Smith noted they need to have legal counsel go over the bylaw before implementation, and they also have to look at staff resources, which are low.
According to Nelson-Smith, the district currently only has one inspector who works both building and bylaw enforcement, and they would need to look at potentially bringing in contractors, a part time employee, or re-training somebody from another department, as well as look at the costs of doing so.
“We want to make sure we have the staff time in order to dedicate to it,” added Nelson-Smith.
“I understand enforcement is going to be a challenge, if not problematic, but at least it’s a start and sets a standard,” stated Robertson. “If somebody does go through the Residential Tenancy Branch and make a complaint with respect to the landlord and this bylaw is in place, then orders can be written from the RTB which are legally enforceable.”
He added that if that happens, then it’s “not just left up to us, there is a role for the province to take place in it as well.”
“We all know we have a massive problem with the lower income dwellings in our town, and yeah, even if it takes a bigger budget I think it’s something that we need to do — I don’t know why we haven’t thought of it earlier,” stated Coun. Janet Dorward.
Corbett-Labatt’s motion for staff to proceed with developing a minimum rental property standards bylaw for the District of Port Hardy was seconded by Tidbury and then unanimously approved.