City looking at options to tackle neglected properties in Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls city staff will report back to council about the pros and cons of a vacancy tax or licensing program aimed at addressing neglected properties in the municipality.

Jason Burgess, the city’s chief administrative officer, told local politicians that staff will get back to them on the issue after it was brought up by Coun. Lori Lococo during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I know a couple of years ago we were talking about houses that aren’t being maintained – iempty houses that aren’t being maintained, houses coming off of the market for affordable housing,” said Lococo.

“I did bring up an idea about a vacancy tax. We talked about a lot of different things, and we didn’t get there, but I know there’s other communities that are bringing up ideas about vacancy tax. It’s a safety issue, there’s fires starting in them, they’re not being maintained, it’s coming off of the market for affordable housing. ”

Burgess said staff have been looking at other potential options to a vacancy tax, such as the City of St. Louis. Catharines recently coming up with a licensing of vacant residences.

“We’ll bring back something on some of the pros and cons of each option, and what is the ultimate goal that council wants to achieve,” he said.

Owners of vacant buildings in St. Catharines will have to register them for a fee, after city council, in May, adopted Niagara’s first vacant building registry bylaw to crack down on empty and neglected properties.

The city’s chief building official said several buildings have remained vacant for years and are the subject of numerous citizen complaints and some have become so deteriorated they are in “extreme disrepair.”

Under the new bylaw, property owners will be required to register their vacant buildings for a one-time initial fee of $ 350. They must then pay an annual registration fee of $ 800 to cover the cost of bylaw staff monitoring the buildings.

In an interview, Lococo said while not all vacant properties in Niagara Falls are neglected, some are, leaving neighbors dealing with challenges such as garbage, rodents, and overgrown grass.

“If we have a program in place… hopefully the maintenance will be fixed, or we have an easier way of contacting them,” she said.

Lococo said another concern with vacant properties is they’re off the market for people to rent or buy.

“We’re in a housing crisis right now, we need more rental units, hopefully affordable rental units,” she said.

Lococo said she’s also spoken with landlords who want to “get out of owning a home for a long-term rental” because of challenges with the landlord and tenant act.

“I know that the (act) was brought in to bring rights for tenants, but sometimes it’s leaning the other way now, and landlords are having difficulty collecting rent, or evicting tenants when they need to,” she said.

“Some of them are just so tired of the challenges that they’ve had with renting, they don’t want to rent their property and they would rather leave it sit there.”

Lococo said there’s “a lot of facets” to the issue.

“I see both sides. It’s not just tenants are bad, or landlords are bad. You have good ones of both, you have bad ones of both, ”she said.

“I think this is a bigger discussion about not just a vacancy tax, but looking into why they’re vacant, what can we do for the landlords? Is that a municipal responsibility? I just want to start the conversation. ”

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