New vacant building bylaw to put the onus on the owner

A proposed bylaw, meant to clean up empty and poorly maintained buildings, has its roots all the way in Manitoba. And if the success in Winnipeg is any indication, Toronto could get a lot more beautiful.

On March 29, Councillor Paul Ainslie recommended that the licensing and standards committee adopt a vacant and derelict building bylaw. Ainslie, Ward 43, said he was frustrated with the empty gas stations, some of which have been vacant for 10 years, and decided to do something about it.

“I was doing a lot of internet research and trying to find out what other jurisdictions are doing,” Ainslie said.
That’s when Ainslie found Winnipeg had passed a similar vacant buildings bylaw in July 2010.

The vacant buildings bylaw in Toronto is modeled after Winnipeg’s. The intent of the Winnipeg bylaw is to:

  • Reduce the risk of fire.
  • Reduce safety hazards for firefighters and emergency personnel.
  • Reduce urban blight.
  • Reduce illegal activities.
  • Contribute positively to neighbourhood renewal.

Garry Solkoski, the administrator for Winnipeg’s housing and existing buildings branch, said the bill was not calling vacancy of these buildings illegal, but instead was there to deal with the condition of the properties.

“The bylaw sets out a standard of maintenance and repair and is required of any and all vacant buildings,” he said.

Solkoski said if an owner does not comply with the bylaw, they could face charges or worse.

“The owners can face a variety of different types of consequences including be charged, taken to court, and eventually the city can take the title to the building,” he said.

So far nine building titles have been taken by the city, but the outcome is not always bad.

Solkoski said there was an unkempt building where the owner repeatedly refused to bring it into a state of compliance within reasonable time frames.

“He [the owner] was charged and convicted in court. Ultimately the building was taken and it was sold to Habitat for Humanity for $1,” he said. “The entire process took approximately one year and as of today we have a brand new in-fill house on that lot which is now a compliment in that neighbourhood rather than a detriment. A definite success story.”

The proposed bylaw in Toronto will now be looked at by the general manager and he will deliver his findings to council in June.

Ainslie said he looks forward to the meeting and wants building owners to know one thing.

“We are here to run a city and make sure it’s run properly,” he said “For the property owners, if they are keeping the properties in order, they will have an easier time selling them.”