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Councillor pitches website to track troublesome 'frequent flyer' properties

City of Ottawa staff will draft a report looking at how the city can better track properties that are frequently the source of calls to police, paramedics, fire and bylaw.  (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)
City of Ottawa staff will draft a report looking at how the city can better track properties that are frequently the source of calls to police, paramedics, fire and bylaw. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)

They're properties that neighbours, bylaw officers and police may know well.

But so far, the City of Ottawa hasn't had an efficient way for residents to report them, or for the city to even track and deal with them — something one downtown city councillor wants to change.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante brought forward a motion at the emergency preparedness and protective services committee Thursday, asking to create a website for these problematic commercial and residential properties.

"They have a significant detrimental impact on say the health, safety and well-being of those either living in [them] or living around [them]," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning before the meeting.

Those problems, Plante said, could be anything from permit and safety code violations to nuisance or public health concerns — but not garden gnomes or unused basketball nets, which she's also gotten calls about.

"It's important to note that the people who are generally living in and around [these properties] are often people who ... don't have the option to move, because either the rent is cheaper there or their children go to school there," she said.

"No one should have to move just because their landlord does not want to deal with cockroaches."

Rideau-Vanier ward Coun. Stephanie Plante urged councillors to vote for her motion, on Sept. 27, 2023, to exempt two housing projects from the pause on brownfield grants.
Rideau-Vanier ward Coun. Stephanie Plante urged councillors to vote for her motion, on Sept. 27, 2023, to exempt two housing projects from the pause on brownfield grants.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stephanie Plante brought forward the motion at Thursday's emergency and protective services committee. She says there are at least 10 "frequent flyer" properties in her ward alone. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Several such properties in Rideau-Vanier

Plante said she can list about 10 "frequent flyer" properties in her ward alone — ones that have visits from firefighters, paramedics, or bylaw at least once a week.

One of the first calls as a councillor she received was from a single mom with a cockroach problem.

"She had tried repeatedly to reach out to the landlord and have the landlord deal with it," Plante said. "And he was not getting back to her."

LISTEN | Should Ottawa create a website for problematic properties?

Similar initiatives have been passed in both Edmonton and North Battleford, Sask, Plante said, where either the provincial government gets involved or the city charges property owners the cost of repeated emergency calls.

That's something she hopes Ottawa can also do, with the help of the Ontario government.

She said the website would only show a picture of the property, not the address, since it's not about naming and shaming the owners but rather providing people an easy way to find resources all in one place.

Residents also spoke at Thursday's committee meeting, pointing out problematic properties they've been dealing with, in some cases for years.

Jerry Sabin pointed to one property that takes up several lots on Besserer Street but has sat unoccupied since at least 2022.

It's been the source of numerous calls to bylaw, police, paramedics and fire services, he said.

"It took over a year for the property owner to take adequate measures to protect this property and a Herculean push by residents, the city and the councillor to just get a fence installed," Sabin said.

Empty properties in disrepair give the impression people don't care about their neighbourhood, he added.

Roger Chapman, director of the City of Ottawa's bylaw and regulatory services, attends a council meeting on June 15, 2023.
Roger Chapman, director of the City of Ottawa's bylaw and regulatory services, attends a council meeting on June 15, 2023.

Roger Chapman, director of the City of Ottawa's bylaw and regulatory services department, says the first step will be defining what constitutes a problematic property. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

Dedicated enforcement team needed

The initiative would be different from the city's current controversial Vacant Unit Tax, which charges homeowners one per cent of their property's value each year unless they declare the home is their primary residence or is occupied for at least six months each year.

The first step would be to come up with a definition of what a problem property is, said Roger Chapman, director of the city's bylaw and regulatory services department.

Another step would be creating a dedicated enforcement team, Chapman said, as the issues with these properties can take months to resolve.

"We have to be at these properties on a regular basis to be able to be successful in trying to resolve the issues that the community is raising," he said.

Staff will now work on a report that will be shared with the committee at a later date.