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Meet bylaw officer BEN: stern but fair

Attention bandits of the Sunshine Coast Regional District: the bylaw is back in town.

Attention bandits of the Sunshine Coast Regional District: the bylaw is back in town.

With the board's passing of a resolution last Thursday to apply to the province for permission to begin using the bylaw enforcement notice (BEN) system, a few things are liable to change.

Under the BEN system, bylaw enforcement officers may serve a ticket by mail, whereas under the old system, which is not being abandoned, tickets could only be considered served if they were hand-delivered to the property owner. In a community where 40 to 60 per cent of properties are owned by people who live off-Coast, you can see where that is a problem.

Once served with a notice, the opportunity to dispute it has changed as well. Under the old municipal ticketing information system, you had to book a day in provincial court. This process could take several years and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, sometimes just to collect a $50 fine. Under the BEN system, residents who wish to dispute a ticket can do so in front of a court-appointed adjudicator. It takes the process out of the litigious court environment and does not result in stains on an individual's permanent record.

But all the best aspects of the old system remain in place. You're not likely to see a bylaw officer or a notice from them unless someone has complained first. The SCRD will not be using the BEN system to go fishing for infractions it can levy fines on. If you are one of those people, you'll still be given ample opportunity to reach an agreement with the SCRD to correct the mistake before punitive measures are even considered.

Picture this scenario: a Kitsilano or Kerrisdale resident buys a waterfront vacation house somewhere between Langdale and Egmont. That owner shows up only a few times a year but immediately hires a construction firm to put an addition on the house.

That addition is completed without the owner ever applying for a rezoning or building permit. The neighbours find the addition abuts right onto their property lines or disrupts the shoreline ecology and complain to the SCRD. The response? Something along the lines of 'sorry, we can't send an enforcement officer to deal with it. We're working on it.'

And I know this happens. The reason I know? When there is failure on the part of a local government to enforce a bylaw and neighbours are getting upset, sooner or later it is going to end up on my desk, too.

The board has taken a measured and methodical approach to adopting the BEN system, raising questions, holding meetings and looking outside the jurisdiction for guidance. There are about 50 other local governments that have already adopted the BEN system and others are trending in that direction. The Town of Gibsons is the most recent one.

The BEN system takes the right approach - less litigious when dealing with minor infractions and plenty of opportunities to correct an error before issuing fines, while giving enforcement officers some real teeth to go after the most egregious offenders.

They are, after all, bylaws, not by-suggestions.