If a new Minimum Rental Standards Bylaw is passed in Quesnel, the municipal government will have a new tool at its disposal to help tenants who live in unsafe or unhealthy rental accommodations.
At its April 30 meeting, Quesnel council reviewed and gave first reading to the new Minimum Rental Standards Bylaw, which provides local governments with the ability to meet the needs of tenants in their communities who live in unsafe and unhealthy accommodation due to poor building maintenance.
The provincial government added provisions to legislation in 1994 to provide local governments with the powers to enact a standards of maintenance bylaw to enforce basic levels of maintenance for rental accommodation.
This bylaw will apply to all buildings, dwellings or dwelling units and land that are now, or may become in the future, substandard with respect to structure, equipment, facilities, maintenance, light, heating, air, ventilation, sanitation, occupation and protection against fire hazard, protection from the outdoor elements, or otherwise may be deemed to constitute a menace to the safety, health or welfare of the occupants.
The bylaw sets out standards that owners of rental accommodations or properties must meet with regards to seer and drainage, safe passage, accessory buildings and structures, fences, pest prevention, dampness, structural integrity, windows and doors, porches, balconies and stairs, plumbing, heating, ventilation, electrical and fire and health safety hazards. There are also maintenance standards for hotels and for mobile home parks and mobile homes.
If this bylaw is approved, the chief building official or any corporate officer will be authorized to enter, at all reasonable times on any property that is subject to this bylaw to find out whether the requirements of this bylaw are met.
The chief building official may direct an owner whose rental accommodations fail to met the requirements of this bylaw to remedy the non-compliance within the time stated by the chief building official in a written notice to comply, delivered to the other or a representative appointed by the owner.
People who violate this bylaw will be fined $50 to $500 for a first offence and $150 to $500 for each subsequent offence.
Prior to the bylaw coming back to council for second reading, staff is recommending the City develop a procedure policy for implementing the bylaw and post the proposed bylaw and obtain community input.
Councillors welcomed the bylaw.
“This is a major, significant initiate on multiple fronts,” said Mayor Bob Simpson.
Coun. Scott Elliott, who is chair of Quesnel Council’s Housing Committee, says this is something the City has talked about and wanted to move forward for years.
“The challenge is that there’s timing issues,” he said. “The sooner we can help the people out, the better, but it’s got to be done correctly.”
“This is very timely because we know we have a need right now for decent, safe rentals in our community,” said Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg.
A policy is being developed to guide the process of reports/complaints, investigation and enforcement actions, and this policy will clearly identify that the Minimum Rental Standards Bylaw is a proactive bylaw which will seek to improve the quality and liveability standards in the rental market in Quesnel, Tanya Turner, the City’s director of development services, explained to council.
The policy will also clarify that inspections will be subject to staff resources.
“As there are technical capacities assumed in electrical, gas and plumbing within this bylaw, it is important to ensure staff performing inspections are qualified or have the base knowledge required in these areas and that this is addressed in the staff resourcing section of the bylaw,” she said. “The building inspector has reviewed the bylaw and feels we have the competencies required. Of course, that’s always dependent on staff resources.”
Simpson clarified that this will not be solely a complaint-driven process.
“We will have the tool ourselves to initiate investigations on properties that for whatever reason we deem need a look-see, and the complaint-driven process will be protected for individuals’ anonymity in ways they don’t need to worry about getting booted out into the street because they’ve made a complaint,” he said.
In conjunction with moving this bylaw forward, the City is also working on the West Quesnel land stability restrictions on investments, explained Simpson.
“A lot of our more problematic properties are in the restricted zone, so we’re already working on that to make sure we can actually have reinvestment in those properties,” he said.
Simpson emphasized that this bylaw does not mean the City will get into landlord-tenant disputes.
“This is keyed in on structural integrity and quality of the actual facility the individuals are living in, and it is a tool we have as a municipality,” he said.
This bylaw is also a tool in the City’s Safer Quesnel initiative, noted Simpson.
“We’ve made a commitment that we’re going to build every tool available to us to act more expeditiously on nuisance properties, on abandoned properties and on these rental properties so we can get on top of some of our more problematic properties,” he said.
“Drug houses are often a problem property that we can go after faster using our municipal tools than the RCMP can go after using the Criminal Code tools they have at their disposal.”