Bylaw enforcement is one of the fundamental responsibilities of local government and may be its most controversial. In the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), bylaw enforcement actions are initiated by written complaints.
A written complaint assists in confirming and validating a person’s concerns, minimizes potential for frivolous complaints, and gives the bylaw officer a more detailed account of the issue at hand as compared to a verbal report.
A written complaint-based system not only supports staff in handling contraventions of CSRD bylaws, but also eliminates the need for a patrol-based system which would be very costly and ineffective in an area the size of the CSRD.
All written complaints received are collected under the authority of the Local Government Act and the Community Charter, and are subject to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Acts. This means that all complaints are kept confidential, unless they become required as part of the proceedings in a court of law.
When a written complaint is received, a file is opened and delegated to a bylaw enforcement officer for follow-up. Handling of a complaint may include follow-up emails or phone calls to confirm details. A response time to follow-up on the concern is then determined by priority, and is followed by an inspection of the property involved to determine if a bylaw infraction has occurred.
Depending upon the violation, further investigation and collection of information may occur with neighbours, CSRD staff and provincial/federal authorities. Acquiring history on the subject property may also be required.
People who are the subject of a bylaw complaint are often surprised when a bylaw enforcement officer visits their property. If a violation is found, bylaw staff initiate resolution of the issue through education and sharing of applicable provincial/federal regulation.
The ultimate goal is to seek voluntary compliance to resolve bylaw infractions. If voluntary compliance cannot be obtained, other options available include ticketing or court injunction.
At the July electoral area directors meeting, CSRD bylaw enforcement officers Leanne Robertson and Tammy Jones presented an overview of their enforcement activities.
Descriptions were provided on 303 files, of which a majority (184) were related to building site issues. By category and numbers the other files were as follows: lakes zoning-docks and buoys (76), signage (15), unsightly premises (6), illegal dumping (4), fire and life safety (4), general (4), aircraft and navigation (3), weeds (3), composting/soil removal and deposit (2).
There was also an unknown number of files opened that related to a wide variety of other issues including: animal control, burning, environmental concerns, fireworks, grow ops, parks, traffic, noise and other incidents involving various government agencies.
There clearly is a lot of variety in the life of a bylaw enforcement officer. I truly admire the patience, perseverance and calming manner of our bylaw staff as they deal with the public on such sensitive issues.
Further analysis was provided on the building site enforcement files and are summarized as follows:
In Electoral Area A, two building files out of three were preventable by building inspection. In Area B, it was four out of nine and, in Area C South Shuswap, 30 of 83 total building files were preventable by inspection.
In Area D Falkland/Silver Creek/Ranchero, 13 out of 25 building files were preventable by building inspection and in Area E Rural Sicamous eight of 17 were in the preventable category. In Area F, North Shuswap, four out of 47 building files were preventable by inspection.
It should be noted that Area F has a building inspection function in place, which explains why the numbers are quite different in that area. If we excluded Area F from these figures, there would be a total of 137 files, with 57, or 42 per cent preventable with a building inspection function in place.
Building inspection has also been a very controversial subject in the CSRD, but these figures suggest that we should critically evaluate the potential costs and benefits.
If you would like to suggest topics for future articles, or participate in our community advisory panel surveys, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Paul Demenok is the CSRD Electoral Area C director.