Why the City isn’t enforcing its bylaws

Action Sandy Hill notebook

At the start of a fresh year for our community association, here is some spicy commentary from seasoned ASH directors

Chad Rollins

If you have ever walked the historic, tree-lined streets of Sandy Hill, you are already well aware that there is something amiss.

You’ve probably thought to yourself that you don’t recall seeing . . . mountains of garbage on the streets of Paris, so many derelict and abandoned buildings in London, as many neglected properties in Amsterdam, rampant illegal front-yard parking in Washington, D.C., or a general state of neglect in any other national capital.

If you have ever wondered why the City isn’t enforcing its bylaws, you are not alone! Action Sandy Hill has devoted a significant amount of time to this issue, over the years.

Since amalgamation, the City of Ottawa has downloaded more and more services to the By-law and Regulatory Services Department. In fact, they now actually do parking enforcement, business licensing, bylaw enforcement, property standards, animal registration and sterilization, and more.

  • In 2017, Ottawa By-law and Regulatory Services —
  • Issued 362,756  parking fines;
  • Issued approximately 11,404 business licenses;
  • Processed 491 lottery licenses;
  • Conducted 2,100 taxi and limousine inspections;
  • Issued approximately 2,100 taxi driver licenses;
  • Investigated 80,639 requests for bylaw enforcement;
  • Registered about 34,000 cats and dogs; and,
  • Performed approximately 2,500 sterilizations of cats and dogs.

Since 2017, the licensing and enforcement of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, marijuana dispensaries, and pay day loan outlets have been added to its long list of duties.

Ottawa’s By-law and Regulatory Services Department has a 2019 operating budget of about $21 million, and employs roughly 168 bylaw officers to carry-out all this work.

Let’s compare this to Toronto, which has a population about three times that of Ottawa: 2.9  million vs 980,000.

Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Department, more or less the equivalent of By-law and Regulatory Services here, includes sections for By-law Compliance and Enforcement; Licences and Permits; and Animal Services.

In 2017, Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department:

  • Handled the adoption of 3,025 animals;
  • Issued or renewed160,626 business licenses and permits;
  • Conducted 184,870 investigations for property standards, zoning, noise, waste, parks, animals and business licences; and,
  • Conducted 7,685 investigations to address service requests for tenants.

Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Department has a budget of roughly $38 million for 2019 and employs 235 bylaw officers, though they are considering hiring 16 more.

On a per capita basis, Ottawa has more bylaw officers: 1.7 per 10,000 residents in Ottawa vs 0.8 per 10,000 residents in Toronto. However on a per service request basis, it would seem that Ottawa’s bylaw officers have to deal with twice as many calls: 2,952 calls per officer in Ottawa vs 1,500 calls per officer in Toronto.The major difference between Ottawa and Toronto seems to be that in Toronto, the bylaw officers needn’t deal with parking enforcement, done by the Toronto Police Service. Interestingly, parking enforcement accounts for about 70% of the service requests handled by Ottawa’s bylaw officers.

In 2017, the City of Ottawa hired KPMG to conduct a review of the bylaw department. KPMG’s report, which apparently included 11 recommendations, isn’t yet publicly available. We’re told the report concluded that the bylaw department was understaffed, largely due to the high level of service compared to other cities. For more than a year ASH has been asking for the status of this report, to no avail.

A few things are clear though: since amalgamation the workload of our bylaw officers has significantly increased; a significant portion of the resources of the By-law and Regulatory Services Department are devoted to parking; and the status quo isn’t working. To see for yourself, just take a walk along the historic, tree-lined, garbage-filled streets of Sandy Hill; and maybe pick up some of the garbage on your way.

Chad Rollins is Past  President of ASH.