Mayor’s corner: Enforcement of the rules on private property: how it works

Tyler Warman
Mayor of Slave Lake

Lately there have been some questions about enforcement, specifically towards property owners.

This can be anything from not cutting your grass, to abandoned buildings, or safety concerns on a property.

Although I cannot get into the specifics of any one case, maybe I can at least offer some information on how the process works. It is not quick or easy, but it’s important to know things are happening behind the scenes.

First off, we get a complaint from the public about a specific property (sometimes our staff will initiate these as well). We will then try to call the landowner or meet with them on that property.

At that point a fine could be issued, but more than likely we give written notice to deal with the property and a time frame that is consistent with what needs to be done. For example; grass is too high…you are given seven days to cut it. This fixes the issue for everyone 85 per cent of the time, but there are some properties that we deal with consistently and have to take it further.

Our next option is to fine someone and once again give a new time frame. If these fines are contested, we spend taxpayers’ money to go to court, and if we win, the fine is applied against their license as this is how fines are dealt with in the Province of Alberta. This may seem adequate, but there are still holes in this process. In a future column I will discuss dealing with homelessness and the difficulties with this process.

Getting back to our current scenario, a fine is issued, levied against their license, but still the property owner doesn’t deal with it. Now what? Next we would issue a stop order. Essentially this is a higher level of enforcement where we notify the landowner that they can no longer use their property for the current use until the issue is dealt with and once again a new timeline is established.

What if they still don’t deal with it? The next step is to go to court again and spend more taxpayer money to convince a judge to allow us to go on someone’s property and deal with it ourselves. This is obviously an extreme measure. We are physically going on to someone’s property and altering their property, buildings, landscaping, etc., without their permission. Although we have had to do this previously and the court will typically give us access if we have done all the previous steps correctly; there remains a burning question.

Who pays for it? Well in every instance, the Town does. Now we legally have an option to recoup that money and our only option is to levy that amount against their taxes.

Now what if they don’t pay their taxes? We can sell a property, and have had to do this in the past. This is done after two years has lapsed without the property owner paying taxes.

There is another process for this; more money spent and advertising that has to be done.

If the property sells, we get to recoup the money and give the remainder to the property owner. This works great if it actually sells and if the amount of the sale exceeds the amount they owe us. If this doesn’t happen, we are either out money, or have to do another tax sale.

If this seems complicated, I assure you it is. It is tedious, time-consuming and expensive at times. Frustration is a word we use a lot with these types of files.

So when you see that property or issue around town and think we are doing nothing, please be aware there is a lot happening behind the scenes that you don’t see and because it’s usually a legal issue, and we can’t tell you much about it either.

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