No easy fix for neighbourhood drug houses

Ron Stasynec is fed up with the almost daily incidents at what he believes is a drug house in his North Cowichan neighbourhood.

  • Mar. 8, 2016 7:00 a.m.

ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN

Ron Stasynec is fed up with the almost daily incidents at what he believes is a drug house in his North Cowichan neighbourhood.

The situation has gotten so bad that Stasynec is even considering selling his home and moving from the community.

Stasynec claims cars start dropping by the house in the early afternoons to buy drugs from dealers, and the frequency of cars and people increase in the evenings.

He said there’s lots of noise at the house almost all the time, and his home and some of his neighbours’ houses and properties have been vandalized by people connected to the problem dwelling.

“A lot of people in my neighbourhood are afraid of the people in that house, and its visitors,” he said.

“The police have been called and have been to the house numerous times now, but then they go away and the problem continues like they were never there. I wrote a letter to the [Municipality of North Cowichan] and the local RCMP, and still nothing has been done.”

Krista Hobday, a spokesperson for the Duncan/North Cowichan RCMP detachment, said she can’t speak to this particular case, as it might impede ongoing investigations.

But, she said, while local police get emergency calls concerning alleged drug houses, it’s a fact that they simply don’t have the resources and manpower to constantly monitor such problem properties in its jurisdiction.

She said if the RCMP identify such a residence as “having all the earmarks of a drug house,” police will often put the house under surveillance and investigate individuals that frequent it.

“We can get search warrants and search the house, after which charges can be laid, depending on what is found,” Hobday said.

“But we can’t usually take the house away from its landlord, who is often renting it out. Renters are often ‘fly-by-night’ people and while we can enforce the laws they are breaking, it doesn’t stop them from going back to that same house when released from custody.”

Municipalities don’t have any authority to enforce criminal laws, including the selling and use of drugs from homes in their jurisdictions.

That enforcement is left to the local police.

But they do have nuisance bylaws, including some for noise and unsightly premises, and they can act against the landlord if multiple complaints have been received and the landlord has not acted on repeated orders to deal with the infractions.

The penalties for non-compliance get more serious if the landlord doesn’t act to fix the problems, and range from fines, notices on title and injunctions to court orders against the landlord.

Municipal bylaws, in co-operation with local law enforcement, has been used to great effect over the years in the City of Nanaimo to shut down drug houses and clean up neighbourhoods.

North Cowichan Jon Lefebure said officials from the municipality and officers from the Duncan/North Cowichan RCMP detachment meet every two months to discuss and collaborate on issues of mutual importance.

But he acknowledged that the issue of drug houses in the community is “very difficult and frustrating” to deal with.

“We have the ability to fine the landlords of these properties, but if challenged in court, a $500 fine could lead to court costs to the municipality of up to $5,000,” Lefebure said.

“So we’re pretty careful on when and where we issue those fines,” he said.

As for notices on the land title, Lefebure said that approach warns potential buyers of the property of issues, but does little else to force current landlords to deal with issues on their properties.

“Each step [in the municipality’s penalty system for nuisance properties] has consequences for the landlord, but it’s still very challenging to effectively stop these problems,” he said.

“We’ll continue to work with the police and I’ll see to it that Nanaimo’s strategy is investigated to see if we can learn something from that city’s experience. But I’m not naive and I know there’s no simple solutions.”