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Sechelt cracks down on 'unauthorized' use of vacant property with proposed bylaw

The bylaw would prohibit 'a vacant property or vacant building to be unsecure to allow unauthorized access, occupation, use, vandalism, unlawful activity or fire hazard'
N.Sechelt Briefs

Sechelt council is considering adding a requirement to its property maintenance bylaw that would allow District bylaw and RCMP to enforce against unauthorized access to private property. 

By amending the property maintenance bylaw, staff hope to make property owners or legal tenants (or someone authorized by the owner) responsible for preventing access to vacant property by unauthorized people. 

At the Nov. 16 council meeting, Sechelt’s chief building official James Nyhus presented amendments which he said are intended to address recent incidents on a private property in the municipality where RCMP and bylaw officers have been unable to enforce the existing bylaw “due to ambiguous wording,” prohibitions and a lack of requirement from the owner to prevent a property from being occupied.

His report stated people who are not the owners or legal occupants of a particular property have been accessing the land and using it against District bylaws. But the municipality can require a standard of property maintenance as per the community charter. 

“If Council adopts the proposed Bylaw Amendment, the bylaw enforcement team will now have an effective tool in achieving the goal of preventing unauthorized occupation in the use of a property,” Nyhus said.

Coun. Dianne McLauchlan asked what brought this forward, to which Nyhus said there is one private property in particular being occupied by people who are not authorized to be there. 

“ has been the centre of a lot of attention from our bylaw enforcement officers and the RCMP. I understand that there is an alleged sexual assault that took place there,” Nyhus said. “And it has caused great concern and our efforts to get the owner to remove garbage are beginning to yield some fruit.” 

The suggested amendment to the bylaw adds a new prohibition: “a vacant property or vacant building to be unsecure to allow unauthorized access, occupation, use, vandalism, unlawful activity or fire hazard.” Along with the bylaw amendments, a new $400 fine for an owner who is not taking action — which could be applied daily — is being considered. There was some discussion about the high cost of the fine. Staff called the fine “significant.”

Securing the property could include barricades, fences or other means, staff said. The amendments will be enforced on a reactive basis when complaints are received. 

Coun. Donna Bell said to staff, “You did mention the removal of garbage…Is this also the removal of people?” She raised a concern about where people will go if they’re moved, and a concern with the timing of the change. 

Staff said the Trespass Act allows action to be taken against squatting, and Henderson added that this is about an empty piece of private property and is one piece of a bigger issue. “But right now this is to give the tools to our bylaw enforcement team to get ‘er done,” Henderson said.

The amendments received three readings from council. Coun. Dianne McLauchlan voted in opposition to the amendments.