Courtenay council met Tuesday, April 6 with the owner of a problem house that was raided by police March 4.
Amandio Santos owns the house at 1655 20th St. During the raid, Comox Valley RCMP arrested 19 people, and recovered a firearm, ammunition and what is suspected to be controlled substances.
The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to address ongoing activities at the house which have impacted the lives of neighbours, and required repeated calls to police and bylaw services. The city says violations and complaints about fighting, drugs and noise escalated between Feb. 1, 2020 and Feb. 1, 2021. Staff members have spoken with Santos on numerous occasions, but ongoing nuisance issues persist.
After the raid, Santos said he was changing the locks, but the group of arrested individuals returned shortly after police left the house.
“I had no choice but to let them in,” said Santos, who lives in Comox. “I was there alone and at least eight of them needed a place to stay…What can I do about these people? I’m doing everything I can.”
He said he served an eviction notice and expect them to be gone by the end of April.
“That’s all I can say at this point. I’ve been trying to develop the property. I’m in talks with the planning department about subdividing and moving the house out of there.”
Considering the amount of grief Santos has created for city staff and residents, Coun. Doug Hillian asked if he would apologize to neighbours “who’ve had to put up with practices that you as a landlord have fostered and done nothing to remedy over the last several years.”
Santos owns another house at 2310 20th St. Neighbours have complained about noise, foul language and drug activity at this property. In a separate issue, the regional district has initiated provincial court prosecutions against Santos for two properties he owns in Fanny Bay, and another in Black Creek. The trial dates are April 29 and 30.
“I have no problem apologizing,” Santos said. “If anybody dislikes what’s going on there, it’s me…I wasn’t renting this place (1655 20th) to these kinds of people. They invaded me. What can I do?”
“What reason do we have to believe that any action you take will make any difference?” Hillian said.
Santos said 2310 20th has been “remedied to a point,” and he is subdividing a lot, which he said has been approved.
“I’m trying to clean up the place so I can sell it,” Santos said. “I feel sorry for the people that have to put up with it, I really do. It’s not my cup of tea. I just have no choice but to put up with it until the time comes that we can solve it.”
Mayor Bob Wells said problems associated with these houses have been a long-standing issue, and one of the top concerns of Comox Valley RCMP Insp. Mike Kurvers.
Kate O’ Connell, director of corporate support service, said a letter from the Building Department to Santos stated that it is his responsibility to ensure 1655 20th was not to be occupied.
“What can I do when they invade me?” Santos said. “I beg you guys to give me a chance to resolve this problem. This is not something I can do overnight. I go there every day to check and see what’s going on. Yesterday, I got attacked by one of the guys there.”
Santos claims the man wanted him to call the police due to a problem with someone else. At this point, Wells called a point of order, and told Santos that, as a landlord, he needed to find a solution.
Coun. Wendy Morin said 1655 20th had a Do Not Occupy sign, meaning the 30-day eviction notice would not apply. She also noted the landlord failed to board up the house.
“This is not the city’s issue,” Morin said. “The responsibility is with you to find housing for those folks that you have tenancy agreements with. There’s lots of ways to keep people out. This has been going on for a month since you received that paper work. There’s nothing that’s changed.”
Santos has not requested to meet with Wells, who said the city has reached a point of upping the pressure to relieve anxiety of neighbours.
“At the end of the day, it’s been unacceptable,” he said. “You had a month to sort this out.”
“Like I said, I’ll do my best to get this cleaned up as quick as possible,” Santos said. “The city should work with me.”
Hillian said Santos has created grief for a year, and portrayed himself as a victim. He did not hear anything to change his mind about proceeding with a resolution to declare 1655 a nuisance property.
Council unanimously approved the motion. Though not a silver bullet, Wells hopes the motion will help bring the house into compliance, and act as a warning to other residences not in compliance.
The city has spent more than 1,000 hours — not including time invested by police — dealing with compliance issues at 1655 20th. The Nuisance Abatement and Cost Recovery Bylaw authorizes staff to charge for municipal services, including policing required to abate nuisance activities. Recoverable costs range from $38 an hour for parking control to $92 an hour for the RCMP inspector.