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.