Fewer homeowners being charged fees

The number of homeowners being charged the $5,200 inspection fee from the district’s Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT) has decreased.

“The team is doing a good job,” said Mission Fire Chief Ian Fitzpatrick.

He knows there are different opinions when it comes to the district’s inspection team, but he believes it’s helping the community and it should continue in one form or another.

The team is made up of a building inspector, fire inspector, and electrician. One police officer also attends the inspections to keep the peace if needed, but remains off the property. Both the building and fire inspectors are district employees hired for the team while the electrician is a contractor.

The goal was to inspect four properties a week when PSIT was first established in the fall of 2008, and that target remains the same today.

The team doesn’t generate any revenue for the district and the $5,200 fee homeowners are charged is the program’s only funding source. The fee is based on the assumption 50 per cent of properties visited will be found in violation of the controlled substance property bylaw and charged.

The bylaw was created to address concerns regarding clandestine drug labs and marijuana grow operations in the community, allowing the district to penalize property owners whose homes are found to be altered to produce illegal drugs, like marijuana and meth.

In 2008, from September to December, the team conducted 32 inspections and found 24 homes were in violation of the district’s controlled substance property bylaw. There were also a few homes that had some indicators, but not enough for the team to come to a conclusive finding, said Fitzpatrick, noting all three team members must agree there is a bylaw infraction before the fee is levied. If the finding is inconclusive, the fee is not charged.

Approximately 175 homes were inspected in 2009, and about 80 were charged the inspection fee. Close to 40 were inconclusive and there were a dozen medical marijuana grow operations licensed by Health Canada.

The federal government issues licences, but doesn’t let the municipalities know about them, said Fitzpatrick. Local governments are only aware of them when neighbours make complaints to the district or police.

In 2010, 180 inspections were conducted and 44 inspection fees charged; 35 were inconclusive, and nine were medical grow ops.

A number of homes also had legitimate uses for high hydro consumption that the team’s research did not reveal and some had faulty meters.

The average home uses less than 50 kwh/day, but homes are only flagged if they exceed 93.

“We get the data from BC Hydro every two months,” said Fitzpatrick.

The team reviews the data and researches the property to determine if there is a reason for the high readings. The addresses are also sent to the RCMP to make sure they’re not ones the police are investigating.

Inspection notices are posted by the fire inspector and building inspector and if the property owner doesn’t call to make an appointment, the team returns the next day. If nobody is home, or if the team is refused entry, its members will apply for an entry warrant.

“People have the right to refuse entry,” explained Fitzpatrick.

But PSIT members have a job to do too.

The program has evolved in other communities, like Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and Surrey, said Fitzpatrick.

“Things change and we always review things on an ongoing basis.”