THE City of North Vancouver is reconsidering its policy of billing landlords for the cost of removing marijuana grow operations or drug labs discovered on their property.
The 2004 bylaw has only been used once, after a marijuana operation was found in a rented apartment on the 1600-block of MacKay Avenue in March of 2010.
The tenants had set up a hydroponic system for their 86 plants using the home's sprinklers. The flow from the sprinklers alerted firefighters, who discovered the secret garden and brought in the RCMP. The renters did not return.
The landlord, Payam Shahin-Moghaddam, was handed a bill for $2,960 to cover the costs of dismantling the grow-op, which included 14 hours of RCMP officers' time, 15 hours of firefighters' time, an hour and a half for two fire engines, and three city building inspections.
The tenants were later arrested, but criminal charges were eventually stayed
by the Crown. In a letter to the city, Shahin-Moghaddam argued it was unfair for him to be stuck with the costs if, in the courts' view, no crime had occurred. City staff disputed his interpretation of the bylaw and Shahin-Moghaddam paid the bill.
In a Feb. 20 city council meeting, Coun. Craig Keating called on his colleagues to repeal the bylaw and give the money back to Shahin-Moghaddam.
"I find it particularly perverse," he said, "that Crown counsel found it fit to stay proceedings, yet the owner of this property, who had no direct involvement in any illegal activities, is charged an extra $3,000 by the City of North Vancouver because of this bylaw."
Keating said the bylaw was a "poor tool" that had not been well used by the city or the RCMP, and said all sorts of other illegal activities could take place in rental homes without making the landlord liable.
Coun. Don Bell backed Keating's motion to revisit the bylaw but said any refund should wait until after that debate, a point that Keating agreed on.
"I don't think we can simply ignore that a cost has been created for city taxpayers, and then ask them to pick up the cost from what amounts to negligence on the part of the owner," said Coun. Pam Bookham.
Coun. Rod Clark agreed. "The owner is running a business," he said. "He's glad to cash the cheques, but with that comes some responsibility."
Mayor Darrell Mussatto said drug production operations such as amphetamine labs could be set up so quickly that it's unreasonable to expect a landlord to detect one right away.
"It would seem to me you would have to do daily or weekly visits," he said. "I think it's a bit extreme to check just in case something might be happening. If there's no real evidence, I don't think there's a right to go into someone's place every couple of weeks."
Council voted 4-2 to start a bylaw repeal process, and unanimously agreed to defer a potential refund for Shahin-Moghaddam until after the question is decided.