The City of Greater Sudbury’s $2-million purchase of the triangular block on which the Ledo Hotel building stands has rekindled a discussion regarding vacant properties.
As Mayor Paul Lefebvre explained last month, city council members took advantage of the fact the properties were up for sale in order to get something done with the long-vacant structure.
“We wanted to buy it and move on,” he said, noting that city council didn’t want to have the increasingly derelict building remain in the state it has been any longer.
They decided to purchase it, in part, because existing city bylaws lack the teeth to force property owners to maintain their buildings at what some deem to be an acceptable level.
Lefebvre pledged that city council would dig into this issue.
The city’s elected officials are currently awaiting the results of a report by city administration on the topic, which Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann requested last year.
The report by city staff is likely to unearth the idea of adopting a vacant building registry, which various other Ontario municipalities have done in recent months.
Earlier this year, the City of Oshawa’s elected officials voted to adopt a registry, becoming only the latest in a string of Ontario municipalities to do so.
A vacant building registry requires property owners to register vacant properties within a set amount of time after they first become unoccupied. They pay an initial fee, and then annual inspection fees.
The annual inspection fees cover the cost of regular inspections, the parameters for which each municipality maps out in their vacant building registry’s associated bylaw.
“(Vacant) buildings have the potential to negatively affect the value of surrounding properties, detract from future investments, and become a health and safety hazard,” a City of Oshawa municipal report about a vacant building registry notes.
“Vacant building and land registry or permit bylaws allow municipalities to track vacant buildings and proactively address maintenance issues through scheduled inspections, as well as educate owners on all applicable vacant building standards while reducing risk to emergency services and the public.”
In adopting their vacant building registry last year, the City of St. Catharines noted in a media release that registration “will trigger ongoing monitoring of such properties by by-law enforcement staff to ensure vacant buildings are safely closed off and all applicable property standards and Building Code requirements are met.”
The fees associated with registering “act as an impetus for owners to fill vacant buildings, improve housing and commercial building supply,” the city notes in their media release.
A municipal report by the City of St. Catharines noted the vacant building registry and the regular inspections associated with it will help protect properties against such things as deterioration, vandalism, squatters, fire damage and unkempt yards.
In the City of Oshawa’s report, a rundown of some municipalities’ existing vacant building registry parameters is included:
- Brantford’s registry kicks off 60 days after a building has become vacant. There’s a $270 registration fee, followed by $600 annual fees. The property is then inspected at least once per month.
- Hamilton’s registry begins 90 days after a building becomes vacant, or within 30 days after notice from the city. There’s a $1,115 initial fee and $729 annual fee, with the property’s condition monitored every two weeks and a municipal law enforcement officer inspecting the vacant building at least four times per year.
- Ottawa’s registry begins after a property is unoccupied for 120 days, and includes a $1,450 annual permit fee and $57 administrative fee. The property is inspected at least once every two weeks.
- St. Catharines’ registry begins after 30 days of a property becoming vacant, and consists of a $350 one-time administrative fee and an $800 annual registration fee. The property condition is monitored every two weeks.
- Welland’s registry begins after 90 days of a property becoming vacant, and includes a $200 registration fee and $282 inspection fee. The property is inspected at least once per month by a person or company familiar and qualified, and twice per year by a municipal law enforcement officer.
Levying a fee against the owners of vacant buildings would be a further step away from discounting their property taxes, which the City of Greater Sudbury used to do.
Like many other municipalities have done, Greater Sudbury has phased out its Vacancy Rebate for Commercial and Industrial Properties.
The program was mandated by the Province of Ontario in 2001, and offered partial tax relief to property owners of vacant commercial and industrial buildings.
The province began allowing municipalities to amend their programs in 2017, which opened the doors for Greater Sudbury to phase it out by 2020.
In 2018, Greater Sudbury also eliminated commercial and industrial vacant land subclasses, which were taxed at a reduced rate. Since that time, they’ve been taxed at the full rate.
Greater Sudbury’s current property standards bylaw requires the owners of vacant buildings to do what they can to protect it from such things as fires and unlawful entrance. All openings must be covered up with plywood painted “a colour compatible with the surrounding walls.”
Many other municipalities’ bylaws are similar, though the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville goes a step further and requires greater attention to the cosmetic nature of the protective boards. In addition to painting boards colours compatible with the surrounding structure, those covering windows are to be painted matte black to resemble window glass.
It remains to be seen what approach Greater Sudbury’s elected officials will take in tackling the issue of vacant properties, of which the long-vacant St. Joseph’s Health Centre on Paris Street is among the most commonly cited.
A municipal report fulfilling last year’s request by Landry-Altmann for information regarding options for dealing with abandoned or derelict properties is expected to come up for city council discussion during a future planning committee meeting. A city spokesperson noted this week that staff members are still working on the report.
“The work being undertaken for this multifaceted motion includes a number of pieces of provincial regulatory legislation including the Ontario Building Code, Planning Act and Ontario Municipal Act as it relates to those pieces of provincial legislation and private property,” the spokesperson said.
“Further, the motion requests changes to the Ontario Building Code Act which requires provincial co-operation and agreement since it will impact all municipalities in the province. Building Services continues its research, collaboration and work on this report to address the motion in concert with Planning, Bylaw and Legal Services. The anticipated completion for this work is Q3 or Q4 of 2023.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.