City councillors want owners of chronically derelict buildings to face tougher penalties

Members of the mayor’s inner circle want city staff to suggest changes to Winnipeg’s bylaws to make them tougher on owners of perpetually vacant or derelict properties. 

“All across our city — and in some wards it’s more problematic than others — we have properties that are not cared for,” Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) told members of the executive policy committee.

“It becomes a blight on the community.”

Gillingham introduced a motion April 9 asking the public service to report back to the community services committee on tools, strategies and tactics that could “promote voluntary compliance and deter repeat or long-term non-compliance” with Winnipeg’s neighbourhood liveability bylaw and vacant buildings bylaw.

Mayor Brian Bowman’s inner circle supported the motion unanimously.

The public service has three months to report back with their recommendations.

Rubin Block remains boarded up

South Osborne resident Jeff Palmer commended Gillingham’s motion. 

Palmer, a city planner and former city council candidate, has been organizing for years to see the Rubin Block, an apartment and retail building on Osborne Street at Morley Avenue, fixed up and reopened.

Jeff Palmer, a city planner and former city hall candidate, has campaigned for years to see the Rubin Block, a mixed-used building at Osborne Street and Morley Avenue, redeveloped. ((Gary Solilak/CBC))

The 105-year-old brick complex has been boarded up since a 2014 fire.

Palmer believes the building is in fairly good condition and with some repairs, return to its prior life as a mixed-use building. 

“Ever since [the fire], the community has been trying to work with the owner to get the building back on track. No such luck yet,” Palmer said. 

“Right now the owner is compliant with the existing bylaws. He gets fined, he pays the fee and nothing ever happens.”

CBC left a message with the building’s owner but has not received a reply.

Palmer wants the city to shorten the time it can seize a derelict property and increase financial penalties for owners of empty buildings. 

“The whole city suffers when buildings like this are left to rot,” Palmer said. 

Under the current regime, owners have to pay a $2,000 fine if they don’t have permits to board up windows and doors. The permits cost anywhere from $2,360 to $7,610 and more depending on the situation.

For vacant bylaw offences, the city can fine owners $500 for a first offence and up to $2,000 and more for multiple offences.

Details on the recommended changes to Winnipeg’s bylaws are expected by late spring.