Municipal bylaw enforcement officers will soon not need to wait for a complaint in order to enforce some property standards bylaw infractions after council gave initial approval at their June 8 meeting to a staff recommendation that Council “direct staff to commence pro-active municipal enforcement for instances where public or environmental safety is at risk.”
Traditionally Meaford's bylaw enforcement for most issues is triggered by the submission of a complaint by a resident, however a report to Council outlined the need for proactive enforcement where public safety concerns exist.
“The Municipality’s existing service standard for municipal enforcement is one of reactive enforcement following a complaint, except for parking enforcement, animal control, and circumstances where signage creates a safety issue,” staff advised Council in their report. “The Municipality encourages compliance with bylaws and staff take a cooperative approach with property owners to try to obtain compliance with our bylaws, issuing orders and prosecutions as a last resort. Despite this approach, municipal staff are aware of a number of issues within the community where public or environmental health and safety could be at risk. Examples of this relate to event venues without the appropriate zoning, building code and fire code approvals, and commercial, industrial and multi-residential properties that do not meet the applicable statute and local bylaws.”
The report warned that, because of the policy of only responding to and investigating complaints submitted by residents, the municipality is aware of safety issues on properties for which no complaints have been received, leaving staff unable to address them.
“At this time, no action is taken to resolve these issues unless a formal complaint is made. Staff do not initiate complaints. This existing policy means that there are potential safety issues in the community that are known to the Municipality, but not dealt with,” the report noted.
The report to Council highlighted the potential liability facing the municipality by not proactively investigating potential property standards bylaw infractions.
“There is a large amount of case law regarding whether municipalities must enforce their own bylaws. In general, the courts have held that municipalities do not have to actively enforce their bylaws, and can make conscious policy decisions not to enforce parts of bylaws. Staff believe that the existing bylaw enforcement policy can be considered to be a conscious policy decision,” the report noted. “However, case law provides a different answer in two specific, but related, circumstances that are relevant to this report. Those circumstances are situations where the health and safety of a person are at risk, and where the provincial government has delegated responsibilities for enforcement to the municipality.”
The report recommended that Council approve proactive bylaw enforcement when safety is a concern.
“One of staff’s key duties is to advise Council on risk implications of municipal services and activities. Through this report, and as a result of the attached legal opinion, staff are recommending that Council provide direction that proactive enforcement should take place where there is a known risk to public health and safety,” the report advised.
Members of Council were supportive of the recommendation to begin proactive enforcement of issues known to the municipality that could pose a public or environmental safety risk.
“I'm all for this proactive municipal enforcement,” Councillor Steve Bartley said. “My question is, at $2 million (per year) for the OPP contract, when you bring in health and safety, why doesn't their contract kick in and look after this?”
Municipal Clerk Matt Smith explained that while the OPP could enforce some municipal bylaws if the municipality had a contract with them, many bylaws are solely the responsibility of the municipality.
“Because we don't have a contract with the OPP, we're a Section 10 municipality, they will not enforce any of our bylaws,” Smith told council. “The municipality has specific responsibility for the building code and fire code, so the police would have no involvement in those pieces of provincial legislation. Even if the OPP were able to enforce our bylaws, they wouldn't enforce on these types of items. They could give a parking ticket or something along those sorts of lines.”
Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney expressed support for the recommendations put forward in the report, though she questioned whether Meaford had the resources to undertake proactive bylaw enforcement given the current workload.
The Clerk noted that staff could accommodate the addition of proactive enforcement on properties with known issues, but should the caseload grow, additional resources would be required.
“If we take some time to deal with these matters, and at least initially there's likely to be a few of them, but hopefully over time there's one every couple of months, and not such a big issue, but it may be that there's ten cases that we need to deal with during the course of the rest of this year because we haven't doing it up until now,” Smith told Council.
The report to Council noted that, “Should the volume of proactive cases be higher than anticipated, additional staff resources may be required to maintain existing standards of reactive enforcement.”
With Council endorsing proactive enforcement in cases related to public health and safety, staff will commence enforcement related to:
Property Standards Bylaw
Open Burn Bylaw
Business Licencing Bylaw
“When staff become aware of an issue that could require enforcement, an assessment will be completed to determine whether public health and safety is potentially at risk. Proactive enforcement will only take place in circumstances where that assessment concludes that there is a potential health and safety issue,” the report noted.
Council's approval will allow staff to begin enforcing known issues.
“Following Council’s decision, staff will take a number of steps to ensure that enforcement activities across the municipality are effective and consistently applied in an unprejudiced manner when there is a potential health and safety concern,” the report noted. “Staff will move forward on those issues staff are aware of, and are determined to be immediately pressing. Alongside this, a monthly staff assessment table will be created to discuss new issues and whether they meet the standard for proactive enforcement. Representatives from municipal enforcement, fire services, and development services will take part in this group.”
Meaford Bylaw Enforcement Officer Holly Hynes. Photo: Stephen Vance