City of Ottawa eyes yearly permit for vacant building owners

Ottawa City Hall (File photo)

Owners of vacant buildings in the city of Ottawa will soon need to obtain a $1,700 annual permit, as the city looks to hold owners accountable for managing empty buildings and mitigate any negative impacts on the community.

The community and protective services committee approved the Vacant Property Bylaw, which would require owners of properties unoccupied for 120 consecutive days to obtain a permit and to follow regulations for identifying, managing and visiting their sites.

Community associations applauded the city's move to deal with vacant properties.

"We have dealt with vacant properties since the rumbling of LRT and they have quickly become nightmares for us," said Lorrie Marlow of the Mechanicsville Community Association.

Marlow says one vacant building in the neighbourhood became an issue for pests and trees falling down.

Linda Hoad of Heritage Ottawa said the bylaw would provide protection to vacant heritage properties.

"Accountability is certainly one of the best things about this bylaw," Hoad said, noting residents don't know who to contact to deal with issues with vacant buildings.

An annual permit would cost $1,700.

The city says the permit would "better mitigate common problems" with vacant properties including improper maintenance, and prevent demolition by neglect by identifying problems with vacant buildings before they are damaged beyond repair.

According to the city, the new permit regulations will identify vacant properties and require the owner to attend the property every two weeks to identify issues on site and resolve violations, "before they escalate".

"The recommended Vacant Property By-law aims to hold property owners accountable for managing their vacant properties and to mitigate negative community impacts those vacant properties can cause, such as property standards and maintenance violations, complaints of garbage and vandalism graffiti on site, and unauthorized access, among others," staff said in a report for the committee.

"The permit system will also provide staff with the tools to better identify problems with vacant buildings early on. This will help prevent 'demolition by neglect' by addressing issues of deterioration or loss of built heritage resources before these properties are damaged beyond repair."

There were 216 vacant properties and land in Ottawa, as of October 2021.  Staff say 110 of the vacant properties currently have development applications submitted to the city.

Vacant buildings are 14 times more likely to generate calls for bylaw enforcement in Ottawa compared to occupied properties, according to staff.

The permit fees will cover the cost of hiring two full-time staff members to enforce the vacant property bylaw. If approved by council, vacant property owners will need a permit starting in November.

Exemptions in the bylaw will accommodate snowbirds, travelling workers and vacation properties.