N. Cowichan looking for better bylaw enforcement

The policy, adopted earlier this year, changes how the municipality deals with bylaw non-compliance.

A new bylaw compliance and enforcement policy means North Cowichan property owners trying to skirt around municipal regulations may find themselves in council’s crosshairs sooner rather than later.

The policy, adopted earlier this year, changes how the municipality deals with bylaw non-compliance.

In the past, the enforcement officer dealt with situations as complaints were filed.

“With 81 square miles and as many issues as we have, the policy was mainly to react to complaints,” North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure explained. “Say if somebody complained about their neighbour or pollution in a creek or an illegal suite, we would then investigate…and we would make a decision on whether to move ahead enforcement.”

Staff’s first efforts were to regularize the situation without going to council — “trying to work with the owner to make things legitimate,” Lefebure said. That hasn’t changed.

But, with the new proactive policy, if bylaw enforcement officer Rob Clark or one of the municipality’s building inspectors notices something awry, or if a tip is received from the public, the municipality is being proactive in looking into it.

Staff initially seek voluntary compliance but failing that, council debates registering a Notice on Title, the first formal step in the process to encourage property owners to comply. It’s a legal notice attached to the property alerting any potential buyers that it is the subject of a municipal issue. Notices on Title protect the municipality from liability and once the problems are remedied the Notice can be easily removed.

“There are always liability issues,” Lefebure noted, but that’s not the only reason for the change. “I think this is more than just liability. I think this is an approach by council to have more compliance with our bylaws,” he said. “The bylaws are there to protect everyone.”

He said council has dealt with illegal structures, disregard for setbacks, duplexes turning into four-plexes and four-plexes converted into six-plexes and more.

“We have lots of situations where there are health and safety issues and issues for the neighbours in terms of parking and activities going on,” Lefebure said.

The new policy enables staff and council to work with willing landowners to address their non-compliance before enforcement escalates.

“If someone is not respecting the bylaws…if you have the kind of attitude that ‘well, the municipality doesn’t care, if nobody says anything I can just go ahead and do this’, you’re going to have lots of damage done,” Lefebure said. “Some of it will be environmental, some will affect neighbours, some will have liability associate with it but I don’t think we want to be known as a jurisdiction where its only if you’re caught that there’s a problem.”