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Unwelcome guests

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

City of Maple Ridge

After Beth’s elderly mother was hospitalized and then moved to a residential care facility, Beth took on the job of managing her mother’s financial affairs including her house.

The city’s bylaw enforcement team contacted Beth with news: squatters had broken in to her mother’s house. To address the break-in, the city offered to arrange for the house to be secured – Beth agreed. Beth, and her mother, would bear the cost of the work, but at least Beth would not have to deal with the problem herself. The city quickly hired a contractor to start work.

Unfortunately, the work failed to deter the squatters. The city inspected and again, arranged for a contractor to secure the premises. The squatters found different ways into the house and the pattern of inspection and repair continued. Under the applicable bylaw, the fee for each re-inspection doubled until the fee reached a maximum of $2400. Several months after Beth had accepted the city’s offer to secure the home, she started receiving invoices for the series of inspections and repairs that had been done.

Beth said she had not received written notice of the steps being taken to address the problem and was unaware of the charges that were accumulating. She thought she should have been informed sooner so that she could decide how best to address the problem.

The city’s bylaw on vacant and abandoned buildings required written notification by registered mail to the owner when the city determined that a building was not in compliance with the bylaw. The city did not provide written notification as required under the bylaw and did not inform Beth in a timely way about the events that followed her agreement to have the initial repairs done. Although Beth had agreed to have the city deal with the initial repairs, she still could reasonably expect to be informed if there were further problems and additional work was required.

We drew these observations to the city’s attention and identified resolutions that we thought were appropriate in the circumstances. The city rejected our initial proposals to settle the matter but subsequently agreed to bring its practice into compliance with its bylaw, send Beth a letter of apology and refund the inspection fees the city had charged. Beth had paid the fees and wasn’t expecting to see that money again so she was very pleased to learn that she would be getting a refund.

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