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Cleanup Bills Mulled To Curtail Grow Ops.

By admin | December 8, 2004

By Bill Cleverley
Times Colonist
Dec 3, 2004.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard wants to make it more difficult for marijuana grow ops, crack houses and drug labs to set up shop in his municipality.

In what would be a Vancouver Island first but is following in the footsteps of several Lower Mainland municipalities, Leonard wants to see a Saanich bylaw adopted that would enable the municipality to bill property owners for the municipal costs associated with cleanup and remediation of houses used for those purposes.

The new bylaw would also prohibit the houses from being reoccupied until the work is done, inspected and paid for.

The initiative will be part of Leonard’s inaugural address to council Monday.

The proposed bylaw is not a response to a problem but rather an attempt to get on top of a situation before it gets out of hand, Leonard said Thursday.

“I’ve been given some of the model bylaws by some of my colleagues on the Lower Mainland and that’s what sort of gave me the head start on it,” Leonard said. “I have been looking for this because I really don’t want to see us fall behind.”

The grow ops and labs have occurred in Saanich, he said, and he doesn’t want the municipality “to become attractive for that kind of use.”

Some bylaws proposed in Lower Mainland municipalities have included billing owners of buildings for the police costs associated with grow ops’ discovery and dismantling.

Leonard said the municipality’s solicitor, Chris Nation, is recommending a cautious approach and that Saanich will only attempt to seek costs that it can reasonably expect to recover. Those amounts probably would not include police costs, Leonard said.

However, he is eyeing recovering costs associated with having a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) team dismantle an illegal drug lab. The simple cleanup costs, rehabilitation, inspection and administration costs could total several thousands of dollars, Leonard added.

Some municipalities also require landlords to inspect their rental properties every few months. Leonard said that idea is worth considering.

“I asked (staff) to look at that again because some landlords actually like it,” Leonard said.

“It gives them a reason to say they have to come in and look at the premise. Again, it puts the onus on the landlord to prevent renting out a property and having it used for a grow op.”

Municipal authorities have been increasingly wrestling with problems associated with illegal grow ops, as operators often tamper with or bypass electrical or water meters and move or block air vents, causing mould and fungus problems in houses. They sometimes punch holes in walls or remove walls entirely.

In Abbotsford, a new bylaw says that once a place has been identified as a grow op, growers must vacate the premises and can expect water service to be shut off within 24 hours.

It will cost Abbotsford growers more to pay for inspection, dismantling and other costs billed by the police, fire department, bylaw department and electrical inspectors. The combination of fees and fines could cost pot growers thousands of dollars, capped at $10,000.

Langley has a bylaw under which property owners are held responsible for maintaining their buildings and repairing them to a condition that is safe for occupancy if they have been damaged as a result of illegal activities.

In its first year, the Property Maintenance and Repair Bylaw generated $31,562.50 in recovered costs from 32 damaged properties referred to the township building department by the RCMP.

Langley staff estimate that up to $100,000 could have been collected, if the bylaw had permitted full recovery of police and fire department costs.

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