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Woman faced $50K fine for missing shingle after bylaw complaint

Heather Borquez says the same neighbour has made multiple 'trivial' complaints about her Vanier property. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

An Ottawa woman who was handed an order by the city to fix a single shingle on a home she owns or face a $50,000 fine says the handling of the matter was heavy-handed and unfair.

Heather Borquez’s house in Vanier lost the shingle during the derecho that swept through in May.

“I couldn’t understand why I was the only person on the street getting that kind of a letter when there are lots of houses in the neighbourhood that are in much, much, much worse shape than mine,” she said.

Ottawa’s bylaw services head Roger Chapman declined an interview, but in an email attributed to him said that the threat of a stiff penalty was necessary because “the homeowner was not willing to work with the [bylaw] officer.”

“Not true. I wasn’t even here when the [bylaw officer] came,” said Borquez, who rents the wartime bungalow north of Montreal Road to a family of new immigrants from Afghanistan.

The minor damage to the roof, since repaired, was only visible from the property of a neighbour who nearby residents say has a long history of lodging nuisance complaints with Ottawa bylaw.

WATCH | The Vanier shingle spat:

‘Neighbourhood spy’

Borquez compared the situation to that of a couple in Ottawa’s Barrhaven suburb who were recently ordered to narrow their driveway after a neighbour complained to bylaw services.

Calling it a case of “government by neighbour,” she said the situation made her feel like she was living in communist Russia.

“Where you have a neighbourhood spy and the spy calls and reports on you,” she said.

Stu Mills/CBCStu Mills/CBC

Borquez and other residents on the street CBC spoke with said a longtime resident there has an equally long history of filing what they say are petty complaints with bylaw.

Garbage bins not put away quickly enough, wild flowers allowed to grow on the city verge, and mowing too close to his fence have all drawn his ire, said residents Jeff Watson and Tina Tolgyesy.

However, when asked by CBC News if he had called in a complaint about the missing shingle, the man denied it.

City of OttawaCity of Ottawa

Borquez struggled to find a roofer willing to take on the tiny repair in the days following the May 21 windstorm that tore roofs off of houses all over Ottawa.

In the end, she met the city’s imposed deadline, with the repair bill coming to just $300.

An unfriendly Ottawa?

But the experience has her feeling that bylaw enforcement-by-complaint is creating an unfriendly Ottawa.

Stéphane Émard-Chabot agreed.

“I don’t think this is what we foresaw,” said the lawyer who teaches municipal law at the University of Ottawa.

If the bylaw reflects values and priorities that are out in the community, then it deserves to be enforced throughout. – Stéphane Émard-Chabot

Émard-Chabot was an Ottawa city councillor from 1994-2000 and said during that time, the city moved to cut costs by reducing the number of patrolling bylaw officers and shifting from proactive bylaw enforcement to a complaint-driven system.

“Often without a full policy discussion about, ‘Is this a good idea?’ and, ‘What are the policy implications in the long term?'” he reflected.

The law professor suggested that rather than enforcement-by-complaint when resources are stretched, a “healthier,” more just system would be for the department to choose one or two enforcement priorities and address them on a community-wide level.

“If the bylaw reflects values and priorities that are out in the community, then it deserves to be enforced throughout.”

Credit belongs to : ca.news.yahoo.com

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