Jackie (name changed) says her health has suffered and her safety has been compromised because of what she says is criminal behaviour at a neighboring property.
Which is why the Courtenay resident is requesting council to implement a Nuisance Abatement Bylaw, similar to one implemented last year in Prince George.
“Courtenay has changed, and we need a strong and enforceable set of bylaws that protect people like me,” Jackie said in a presentation to council Sept. 3. “There are many of us in the Valley who have been terrorized by our neighbours. Some are put in this situation because of unscrupulous landlords who continue to dupe police, government and City officials by renting properties to criminals.”
She said councillors need to treat this situation as if it is happening in their neighbourhood. In the last four years, Jackie and her husband Mick estimate they have called police, bylaw officers and other emergency services close to 100 times.
“The activities of the people residing next to us consumed our lives,” Jackie said.
On several occasions, they have, to no avail, asked their neighbours to contain the noise. They have formed a Block Watch group, met with police, and sought help from Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard for possible support with provincial laws.
“My husband and I have spent hours documenting the activities of our neighbour, and a lot of money on security lights and alarms,” Jackie said. “Night and day, we were disturbed continuously with music, arguing, swearing, the sound of vehicles without mufflers. We had cigarette butts and dog feces thrown into our yard, and drug users, bike thieves and prostitutes were trespassing on our property constantly. The sounds of spitting, coughing, vomiting was part of the noise associated with people doing drugs 10 feet away from us. We witnessed animal cruelty and neglect, and we were personally threatened.”
According to Jackie, police said City bylaws are their only defence. Three bylaw officers have attended at various times, but Jackie and Mick have seen few results.
“One police officer clearly told us that Courtenay needs a bylaw similar to the one that’s been implemented in Parksville,” Jackie said.
She noted a Jan. 17, 2018 article in the Prince George Citizen that references City of Courtenay Bylaw 2804 that allows police, bylaw officers and others to issue tickets for a host of nuisance-related violations. But she said her neighbour has yet to be issued a ticket.
To be successful in any bylaw enforcement proceeding, the City of Courtenay needs to gather evidence supporting an infraction.
“Fines issued for violating any bylaw may be challenged in court, so we must have strong supporting evidence,” the City said in a statement.
Jackie wants to see a new and enforceable bylaw. She also thinks citizens should be engaged to consult on the matter.
“If such a bylaw had been available to me, I may not have suffered the stress and pain that’s actually caused me personal harm.”
Coun. Doug Hillian expressed his regret for the couple’s grief.
“It’s a problem that we really do want to solve,” he said. “Where the rubber hits the road is how it actually works in practice. I think we have to seriously consider whether hauling people in here for some sort of court before council is the most effective way or not, but I think your idea of getting citizen input into how this might most effectively work is a good move.”
Coun. Manno Theos sympathized with residents who feel as if they are being held hostage by a homeowner or renter.
“Fairness is just not there,” he said. “It’s devastating for people who feel trapped in their homes.”
He said the issue needs to be a key item of discussion at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.
“This is a cancer that continues to spread if we don’t do something to attack it and to address it in a significant way,” Theos said.
In Prince George, no action can be taken against a property owner or tenant until the issue goes before council. City staff and police present evidence, and the owner or occupier can respond. Bylaw violators can be fined between $200 and $10,000. The bylaw has been criticized by the Pivot Legal Society for creating a situation where people subject to an order under the bylaw might delay calling 911 for fear of being fined or evicted.