Compliance Approach to By-Law Enforcement Process
My office receives many E-Mails and phone calls from residents asking why it takes the City so long to resolve a by-law infraction. This overview is meant to help you understand the process involved in reporting infractions, investigation timelines and the City’s COMPLIANCE APPROACH to by-law enforcement.
REPORTING BY-LAW INFRACTIONS
The #1 reason for lack of by-law enforcement is improper reporting of a potential infraction. It is critical to:
- Learn how to PROPERLY report a potential by-law infraction (SEE Properly Reporting By-Law Infractions)
- Take action and actually REPORT the infraction!
All potential by-law infractions must be reported by calling 311 or e-mailing email@example.com
- We HIGHLY recommend using e-mail as it is a more efficient use of your time. Winnipeg’s 311 Service Centre receives over 1.5 million enquiries annually and callers often experience long wait times. E-mail takes only a few minutes, and helps by documenting your concern for future reference.
Simply put, enforcement cannot occur if the infraction is not PROPERLY reported. The City of Winnipeg operates on a ‘complaint based system’, meaning there is no one proactively patrolling the entire City looking for by-law infractions. It is up to each one of us to report potential infractions!
When you report an infraction to 311, please copy me as well so that I am aware of the issue: jlukes@Winnipeg.ca.
The operations of Winnipeg’s 311 Service Centre are governed by The Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Act (FIPPA), legislated by the Government of Manitoba. FIPPA protects your personal information. It establishes rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by public bodies
It’s important to understand that FIPPA also protects the personal information of offenders who violate by-laws. As a result, the City of Winnipeg is not able to release critical details of an ongoing investigation, no different that an official police investigation.
INVESTIGATION PROCESS & TIMELINES
Community By-law Enforcement Services regulates the maintenance of properties and other aspects of neighbourhood liveability in order to develop and maintain safe, orderly, viable and sustainable communities and to promote and maintain the health, safety and well being of residents.
In addition to investigating potential infractions of Property and Neighbourhood Standards, the department is responsible for a wide range of services: health inspections, license services and the City’s illegal dumping surveillance program.
On a city-wide basis, there are thousands of by-law infractions reported each year:
- In 2013, over 16,000 reports of potential by-law infractions were made to 311.
- From May to September, the City receives an average of 3,000 to 5,000 complaints about vegetation alone. This number does not include other infractions.
- With such a large volume, all reports of by-law infractions are responded to in order by the City, on a first-in / first-out basis.
When 311 receives reports of potential infractions, they forward it By-Law Enforcement for investigation:
- An initial inspection is scheduled by By-Law Enforcement to determine if there is indeed a violation, and if it involves any other City departments (i.e. Public Works, Water and Waste, Zoning, Winnipeg Parking Authority or Fire Prevention).
- If there is a violation, the Department then proceeds to issue orders, contacts the property owner, and re-inspects multiple times as required in order to achieve compliance.
- Repeat follow-up inspections are documented, knowing that if compliance does not occur, the Enforcement Officer will issue a fine.
- In order for a fine to be enforced, the charge must be accompanied by detailed and thorough documentation which serves as evidence that the Officer did everything in his/her power to achieve compliance.
- If multiple City departments are involved (i.e. in the case of garbage or long grass/weeds), the investigation timeline will likely take longer.
As an example, the process and timeline for investigating reports of long grass/weeds is as follows:
- Department receives a complaint through 311
- Investigate complaint (TIMELINE: up to 20 business days during busy season in May to September).
- Identify and process by-law infraction (TIMELINE: up to 2 business days)
- Issue compliance order with timeframes to remediate (TIMELINE: average of 7 business days to be consistent and reasonable)
- Re-inspection of the property for compliance (TIMELINE: up to 5 business days after compliance date)
- If not resolved, case is forwarded by By-Law Enforcement to the Public Works Department which will mow the area with costs charged back to the property owner (TIMELINE: up to 7 business days)
When there is a by-law violation, the Enforcement Officer seeks to achieve compliance. This means the City does not immediately fine or issue tickets, but instead works with the offender to correct the infraction. More often than not, this process of “seeking compliance” by the offender takes time as noted in the example above.
The City chooses to have the By-Law Enforcement Officer work with residents towards compliance for many reasons:
- Some residents and new Canadians may not understand they are violating a City by-law, as there are hundreds of by-laws in existence.
- Individuals are provided with an opportunity to understand the issue and take the necessary corrective action.
- Personal reasons play a factor as well, i.e.
- Perhaps the resident was/is out of town, and is not aware of the issue
- The resident is in the process of saving money in order to correct the infraction
- The resident has serious health issues and requires medical intervention.
Many changes have been made in the past three years which has increased the City’s ability to enforce by-laws. Much of this work is a result of the efforts of the Fort Richmond–University Heights Neighbourhood Association. See my Councillor’s Report to the Community to learn which by-laws now have more ‘enforcement teeth’.
For more information, see Standards for Maintenance of Residential Properties.