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Langley City to take action on abandoned buildings

Abandoned homes in Langley City have caused problems for neighbours, and Langley City is now taking more action to ensure they are not vandalized and are kept secure. - Langley Times file photo
Abandoned homes in Langley City have caused problems for neighbours, and Langley City is now taking more action to ensure they are not vandalized and are kept secure.
— image credit: Langley Times file photo

Allowing a building to sit empty and unsecured in the City of Langley could soon become a costly oversight.

On Monday, City council voted unanimously to impose a fine of $500 per day upon owners whose buildings sit unoccupied or abandoned for 30 days or more, should they fail to secure the structures against squatters or vandalism.

The move comes as the municipality searches for a way to address the issue of abandoned and derelict properties within its boundaries.

“Often, the problems associated with an unoccupied building are the result of a property sale prior to subdivision, rezoning and development applications,” reads an explanatory memo regarding the bylaw.

“In such instances, it is not uncommon for a property to become derelict as the pending sale is finalized, there being little interest by … the owner to maintain the property.”

Last spring, a group of City residents appeared before council to complain about the state of a number of homes in their neighbourhood which had been sold to developers and then “essentially abandoned.”

Barbara Scott, a 40-year resident of the area of  200A - 201 Street and 53A - 53B Avenue told council last May that the neighbourhood she and her husband had been happy to call home for the first 35 years, had deteriorated to the point that it could be considered a slum.

Following their sale, some houses had been rented out while others were simply trashed and then boarded up, Scott told council.

And until the previous year, the properties had not been maintained, she said.

“Lawns were seldom mowed, the boulevard was left to grow until the grass and weeds were a foot tall.”

Scott said it was only after residents complained frequently to the City that a tenant of one of the houses was hired to cut the grass.

At the same time, she said, fences have been “left to lean any which way.”

Fears that the empty buildings were being used as flophouses also caused neighbours to be worry about their security, Scott added.

Once the new bylaw passes final reading, the issuing of daily fines will allow the City to recover the cost of having staff deal with abandoned buildings, said Carolyn Mushata, the City’s manager of legislative services.

“We hope the fines will outweigh the costs of maintaining the properties in a secure manner.”

Until the passage of the new bylaw, which received first, second and third reading on Jan. 27, the only authority the City holds is through its fire-related legislation. If a building is damaged in a fire, the municipality can require that it be secured for health and safety reasons, Mushata explained.

However its only recourse for abandoned buildings, to date, has been to talk to owners and ask them to comply.

“What about empty buildings the owners are trying to rent but are unable? I was told we’d not enforce that. Is there anything in writing?” asked Councillor Jack Arnold.

“We’d still enforce it if the property became a nuisance and if it’s not secured,” replied Mushata.

Mushata said the City’s hope is that the prospect of the fines will serve as a motivation for owners to ensure their vacant properties are secured, whether by boarding them up, installing security fencing or other perimeter barriers or by installing a security alarm.

Repeated failure to pay tickets issued at $500 a day would result in a secondary “long form”  process in which offenders would be fined $2,000 for a first offense and an additional $3,000 for each subsequent offense.

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