A proposed bylaw that would hold property ownersresponsible for renters' drug operations and bill themfor the cost of investigations passed its first threereadings and received strong council support at theDistrict of Squamish council meeting Tuesday (June20).
Squamish council is only one of several B.C. municipalgovernments supporting the provincially endorsedbylaw, which was drafted by the Union of BritishColumbia Municipalities (UBCM).
The intent of the bylaw is to limit and reducemarijuana grow operations and methamphetamineproduction labs - called Controlled SubstanceProperties (CSP) - and to recover costs associatedwith RCMP and municipal investigations, according todistrict protective services staff.
"RCMP officers in Squamish are routinely investigatingand 'busting' illegal marijuana cultivationoperations," states a staff report."This bylaw will authorize proper clean-up of thesesites as well as a framework for dealing with clean-upof the more hazardous methamphetamine labs." Property owners will be required to inspect a rentalproperty for a CSP at least once every three months,to maintain a written log of such inspections, toprovide a copy of the inspection log when requested byan inspector, and to report any found CSP to thedistrict within 24 hours of finding it. If RCMP orinspectors suspect and discover a CSP without theproperty owner's notification, the owner is billedwith policing and district enforcement costs, startingat $500 for an inspection. If these "service fees" arenot paid, they can be collected as property taxes. Thefees are justified due to the costs and hazardsassociated with CSPs.
"Meth labs use many chemicals, which are toxic andextremely volatile when combined," states the report."With these sites, a firefighter and any other firstresponder or safety staff must be cognisant of theadditional risks posed by hydro bypass, booby trapsprotecting the operation, electrical wiringentanglements, confrontation with attack dogs, andcollection of toxic chemicals. In addition to thedanger, there is currently the cost to the taxpayerfor providing first responder, operations, and otherservices."
Once the CSP is discovered, the owner has two monthsto make the site livable by removing mould andthoroughly cleaning the residence. Owners areencouraged to follow new regulations or face morecosts through minimum $1,000 fines for a number ofoffences including failure to notify inspectors,failure to provide inspection logs, altered hydrometers, failure to properly clean premises after CSPdiscovery and failure to notify neighbouring tenantsor new tenants of CSP discovery.
"Most grow ops and meth labs are in rental homes,where often the internal structures and services areadversely altered to accommodate the productionactivities," states the staff report. "When theproduction facilities are dismantled, it is leftvirtually uninhabitable from damage to the integrity,often mould and/or absorption of chemicals intocarpeting, walls, etc. If not cleaned properly, thesesites are very unhealthy and dangerous for futureresidents."
The bylaw will also entitle district staff, landlordsand other authorities to shut off water servicedespite a provincial Residential Tenancy Officeregulation that states: "It is an offence for alandlord to discontinue providing a service orfacility that is essential to the tenant's use of thesite or unit for their residence."
Conflicting regulations may be resolved through thebylaw's "severability" clause, which states: "If aportion of this bylaw is found invalid by a court, itis the intention of the council that the portion besevered and that the remainder of the bylaw remain ineffect."
The bylaw will be heard for its adoption at the nextDistrict of Squamish council meeting on July 4.