Whitehorse may soon be holding drug-house landlords financially responsible for damage to city infrastructure caused by their tenants.
Tuesday, city officials discussed a proposed property bylaw that would allow bylaw officers to enter a residence once problem tenants, including suspected drug dealers, have been ousted.
This bylaw would work in concert with the territorial government’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods act, which allows tenants to be evicted on suspicions of drug crimes.
Once the tenants are evicted, bylaw officers would enter the residence to determine what, if any, structural damage has occurred.
If damage is found, a ‘do not occupy’ sign would be posted at the front door and the appropriate professionals called in.
For example, if the electricity or water has been tampered with due to marijuana grow-operation, the damage will have to be fixed before the residence is deemed habitable.
Under the proposed bylaw any costs to repair the residence would be transferred to the landlord and the landlord would face fines if the bills weren’t paid.
“This is to ensure that the landlord doesn’t simply fix things himself and put the residence up for rent again, without calling in required building inspectors,” said bylaw services manager John Taylor at Tuesday’s meeting.
“This is very much a punitive bylaw.
“It works with the SCAN legislation to make sure landlords are renting to responsible people.
“It might also encourage landlords to inspect their rental units and report any suspicious behaviour, if they know that they will be slapped with fines when their tenants are caught.”
The bylaw is meant to protect the health and safety of people who would live in a drug house after it has been shut down. It is based on similar legislation found in jurisdictions such as Coquitlam, BC.
“What this bylaw is attempting to address is what has to be done to the building before it can be reoccupied,” city manager Dennis Shewfelt said at the meeting.
“It deals with things such as electrical issues and mould.”
Bylaw officers would have the authority to enter drug houses under the health and safety clauses of the Municipal Act.
The city started looking at its options after the RCMP discovered six suspected marijuana grow operations in Whitehorse in 2005, said Taylor.
Four of the homes were located in Copper Ridge — at 23 Black Bear Lane, 22 Tigereye Crescent, 86 Falcon Drive and 208 Falcon Drive.
The two remaining homes were located at 41 Grouse Crescent in Arkell and 16 Sitka Crescent in Spruce Hill.
The cases of those allegedly involved in the operations are still before territorial court.
“I will not vote for this (bylaw)” said councillor Doug Graham.
“What if the tenants aren’t guilty?”
Assertion of guilt becomes a problem when working with the SCAN legislation as tenants can be evicted based on suspicious behaviour and not hard criminal evidence.
Graham said he fears that landlords will then be stuck with fines they shouldn’t be stuck with because their tenants weren’t really drug producers.
“I don’t like it,” said Graham. “You can get screwed so easily.
“Think about the costs we’re looking at if something backfires.”
Graham asked what would happen if building inspectors were called in on the city’s dime and the so-called drug-producing tenants were found innocent in court.
It would then be difficult to transfer the costs to the landlord.
“This is a blanket law; there is no perfect law,” said city administrative services director Robert Fendrick.
Should we apply this legislation to slumlords that let their property deteriorate, causing mould and electrical damage as well? asked councillor Florence Roberts at the meeting.
That would be getting into murky waters said councillor Jan Stick, noting the landlord-tenant act is territorial.
“Shouldn’t this be a territorial thing?” asked Stick.