Vulnerable renters at risk?

New bylaws brought in by the City of Penticton last month charging landlords for repeat calls for emergency services are “constitutionally suspect,” according to the Pivot Legal Society.

The Vancouver-based legal advocacy group says the new penalties — $200 for police and bylaw, $400 for fire — could impact vulnerable members of the community such as addicts or women in abusive relationships.

Penticton’s new bylaws state a property can be deemed a nuisance after more than three emergency calls to a property within 12 months, or more than one in 24 hours.

“That’s actually a very strict standard,” said DJ Larkin, staff lawyer with Pivot.

“It puts the onus on individuals to possibly avoid calling 911, or puts the onus on landlords to either evict or not house those people in the first place.”

In the context of a province-wide housing crisis and opioid overdose epidemic, neither of those options should be acceptable, she said.

Larkin added the fees are also vulnerable to a challenge in the courts, calling them “constitutionally suspect.”

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and that includes the right to save a life,” Larkin said. “If a person overdoses three times in a day, no one should be concerned about calling 911.”

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit says he “doesn’t buy the argument” the bylaw will discourage people from calling 911.

“If you are in trouble, or you see someone's in trouble, your instinct is going to be to call 911 and make that call,” he said.

Jakubeit added there is “some flexibility and common sense” built into the bylaw, that will see each case handled individually.

Bylaw services manager Tina Seibert says they have formed a working group between the city and emergency services that decide together when to declare a property a “nuisance,” triggering the fees.

At that point, the property owner will be given written notice and the chance to appeal to city council. Seibert says they are currently moving through this process with their first Penticton property.

She says the city just is targeting properties that “have become a drain on city resources.”

“It's not really fair to the taxpayers to have to live next to or near someone that has that kind of a property.”


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