Better Response to Bylaw Complaints

Have you ever been frustrated by a neighbour’s messy property? Snow build up on sidewalks? You’re not alone. In fact, many citizens in Edmonton report these concerns everyday. When a nuisance become a problem, is when the City of Edmonton Branch of Complaints and Investigations comes in. If citizens have complaints about weeds, snow removal, or questions about animal control – the City of Edmonton has several mechanisms to resolve those concerns. Important to note, concerns can be sent to 311 or the online bylaw complaint service.

 

First and foremost, what is a bylaw? Roughly speaking, a bylaw is a regulation made by the city government.

 

While you have to call 311 for certain bylaw complaints, you can register some bylaw complaints online:

 

  • Dog barking excessively
  • Property with excessive dog defecation
  • Property with dangerous snow or ice on the sidewalk
  • Unlicensed pet
  • Untidy or unsightly property
  • Noxious weed infestation on private property only

 

 

I have heard from many residents that when they make a complaint that a bylaw has been broken, it can take far too long to respond for there to be a proper resolution to the complaint. For example, I have heard from many residents in new communities who report a sidewalk that hasn’t been shoveled through 311 and then wait many weeks before they see improvement. I’ve also seen and heard of issues where undeveloped lots in new communities are not receiving any weed maintenance which not only makes the area unsightly but those weeds can sometimes spread to nearby lots and make it hard for the resident to address. But under the current process, unless you report each address, it is hard to properly enforce all the infractions. You should have the ability to report an area that isn’t being maintained or a specific block that hasn’t seen any type of snow or ice removal without having to report each specific address. Another issue is not being able to report snow and ice complaints while it is currently snowing. 311 will actually stop accepting snow and ice complaints which means even if there is a property that obviously hasn’t been shoveling snow for a month, you cannot report that until 24-48 hours after the most recent snowfall. Of course if it starts snowing just as the complaint line is reopening, complaints are again stopped meaning people can sometimes go a week or two before they can formally submit their complaint.

 

 

Example of Windrow – Photo from Edmonton Journal.

 

As a result, I have put forward an inquiry to City Council to look into response times for complaints related to snow & ice as well as land/yard maintenance. Part of why I want to make this inquiry so this can be discussed in combination with our Snow & Ice Policy update in June and August. I want to provide the Complaints and Investigations Branch with the tools to address those issues. The inquiry is as follows:

 

That Administration provide a report on the current process to address complaints under Section II of the Community Standards Bylaw related to land and snow & ice. This report is to include the following information:

 

  • The process to report/process complaints and any current restrictions for accepting them (ex: timing, multiple addresses, no addresses, etc.).
  • The average time to resolve a complaint from the time it was initially reported and how this varies with repeat offenders or different land use (ex: a commercial property versus an individual homeowner).
  • The process to determine who is responsible to address a complaint in new communities where land ownership (ex: City, developer, builder) is not easily known.
  • Any legal requirements that currently exist when issuing warnings or orders to address a complaint.
  • How we determine if a complaint is properly resolved and how/if the complainant is notified of the timeline to resolve the issue.
  • Any options that have been explored to improve the reporting and investigation process.

 

Due Date: June 2019

 

In the interim, if you have a complaint about a bylaw infraction – there are lots of resources that can help.

 

 

 

So how does the city respond to complaints?

 

After you call 311 or make a complaint online, the City takes these steps to help with your issue:

  • A file is created specifying your concerns
  • A Municipal Enforcement Officer (MEO), Community Standards Peace Officer (CPO), or Animal Control Officer (ACO) opens an investigation
  • The officer investigates your complaint within 4 business days
  • The officer may issue a warning notice with directions to remedy the problem within a specified time frame, or issue a fine immediately, depending on the circumstances
  • The officer may issue an order, which allows the City to fix the problem and bill the property owner for the cost
  • The City may contact you to appear as a witness, if the matter goes to court

 

The Edmonton 311 App also makes it easy to report your concerns while you’re on the go. For more information about the 311 App, please visit our online tutorial. The City of Edmonton 311 service also tracks the amount of complaints they get about specific issues, so for example if they received several complaints about a specific sidewalk – it helps the city identify that it is a more urgent issue. For this reason, I always recommend using 311 as the primary service for all bylaw complaints.

 

With all this being said, the City of Edmonton has a great foundation to improve upon. According to the Complaints and Investigations area, we generally get 85-90% compliance to all our initial notices for weed and snow enforcement.  I also understand the importance of educating both home owners and developers on how to maintain their property according to bylaws. I will be sure to provide further updates after the results of my inquiry come back in June of 2019. It’s important to note that having this inquiry come back when we talk about our Snow & Ice Control Policy will also allow us to think about how the City can better address the areas that we are responsible for as I also am well aware of examples of locations that the City isn’t maintaining to the standard we expect we everyone else. Overall, the City of Edmonton should prioritize educating residents/business owners on bylaws and better maintaining City-owned infrastructure so that less infractions happen – as well as responding in a timely matter to reported complaints.

 

6 Comments

  1. Anthony R on March 14, 2019 at 11:11 am

    In regards to snow clearing on sidewalks, I think that the bottom up approach of citizen complaint, through 311, to enforcement, to a notice to the resident/business, to possible fines is still a losing, time consuming proposition for everyone. Not to mention that during this whole process the walks remain uncleared. This is definitely not best practice, the time and money spent on the administration of this process could be better spent on just clearing the sidewalks with the appropriate equipment.

    There are dozens of uncleared sidewalks on my commute that have been a problem all winter. I have filed 311 complaints and no visible action is taken. I can’t even reliably find my original requests as no ticket number is provided by email. Ultimately most of the walks remained covered for months.

    I genuinely appreciate your efforts on this but I think a more top down approach to snow clearing is warranted, especially on busy routes and around schools. For those that are able bodied they may not see the issue, however even in my own neighborhood my friend has to drive her daughter 4 blocks to school instead of walking as they cannot use the sidewalks in winter with her wheelchair.

    Other cities are already clearing snow from sidewalks, such as Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Prince Gorge, Moncton, and Halifax, as per this article: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/canadians-shovel-snow-off-sidewalk-depends-city-195657422.html.

    Edmonton is trying to embrace the ‘Winter City’ moniker, maybe it’s time we started acting like it.

    • Andrew Knack on March 19, 2019 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks for the feedback on this, I appreciate it.

  2. Bryan Anderson on March 14, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Andrew, early in your blog you list bylaws citizens can register bylaw complaints online. One states “noxious weed infestation on private property only.” The tremendous disregard the City’s departments have for noxious weeds on City owned land had long been a concern of mine, and I hope yours. I don’t know how anyone connected to the City can authorize a ticket to a citizen and not feel guilty about turning a blind eye to the hundreds of acres of City land infested with Canadian and Russian Thistle. I hope your inquiry addresses this issue and that you care enough to stay on top of it.
    Former Councillor Bryan Anderson

    • Andrew Knack on March 19, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks Bryan for the comment and it’s great to hear from you. The idea is to also discuss how the City is dealing with our own property so I expect to talk about that when the report comes back. Thanks again for the comment Bryan.

  3. Angela on April 15, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Andrew, my problem is that 311 won’t allow a complaint to be made anonymously. Last fall the house across the street had two travel trailers parked on it and people were clearly living in it. I know this isn’t allowed under the bylaws, but 311 wouldn’t investigate (which honestly would have required no more than driving by and taking a photo or two) unless I left my name. The occupants have also left bonfires unattended, and their property is generally an unsightly mess.

    The problem is, I’m a single mom and I can’t risk retaliation from three guys (who are, to be kind, “rough around the edges”). So what recourse do I have in these situations if I don’t want to put myself and my home at risk?

    • Andrew Knack on May 15, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you for the message. I will be discussing that when the report comes forward as you aren’t the only one who has raised a concern like this. Thanks again for the comment.

Leave a Comment