Twenty-three property owners have had their Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT) fees reversed after district staff completed a review of all open files.
The number seemed low for some councillors, after Fire Chief Bob Cannon, who finished the process, explained the legal review involved lawyers who classified each case as strong or weak if it went to court.
PSIT and the bylaw governing it have been controversial since its 2008 inception. The legislation was created to address concerns regarding clandestine drug labs and marijuana grow operations, allowing the district to penalize property owners whose homes were found to be altered in an unsafe way. Owners whose homes were suspected of housing illegal substances were charged $4,900 for the inspection and a $300 administration fee. Additional remediation inspections were $250.
Some owners whose homes were searched challenged the high fees and threatened the district with legal action.
Before the practice was halted in 2011, the team inspected 499 properties, with 283 of them identified as a controlled substance property. PSIT initiated 170 of those inspections based on high hydro consumption rates, while the rest were brought forward by police. The district did not review the RCMP-led files.
Of the 170 files, 74 were closed as all the fees were paid and remediation orders completed, leaving 96 for review.
Coun. Larry Nunal, who has been critical of the bylaw from the beginning, pointed out the review didn’t give property owners a chance to dispute or question the lawyers looking over the files.
He also criticized the remediation orders, calling some of them “bogus,” such as flushing and chlorinating water lines.
“They put up ‘do not occupy’ signs over minor issues,” said Nundal. “It wasn’t for safety at all. People innocently suffered.”
Cannon explained his main concern related to fire hazards, such as unsafe electrical lines on properties.
“If people want to submit evidence to dispute (the review), we’ll forward (the evidence) to the lawyer,” said Cannon. “Some people are cleaning up their properties and not asking for their money back.”
However, if people are wrongfully charged, there is an appeal process.
Coun. Jenny Stevens said the cases that distressed her the most were the ones that weren’t given a fine because there was no evidence of “growing funnies” but the families “suffered greatly” due to neighbours seeing their homes being inspected.
Stevens, who was on council when PSIT was put in place, said the bylaw was meant to protect neighbours and future homeowners but admitted the implementation was disastrous.
“I believe staff in the end, when looking through the files, tried to repair as much harm as possible,” she noted. “It won’t be totally resolved … but I think staff have done their very best.”