Case Commentary – Dangerous or Unsightly Premises (Rehberg v. Halifax Regional Municipality)
Municipal Law Newsletter
Rehberg v. Halifax Regional Municipality, 2018 NSSC 142, addresses issues that arise when a municipal unit designates a property as “dangerous or unsightly” and orders that a property be demolished.
The Halifax Regional Municipality Charter (the “HRM Charter”) defines “dangerous or unsightly” and requires that “every property in the Municipality must be maintained so as not to be dangerous or unsightly”. The Municipal Government Act has a similar definition.
In the HRM, when a Bylaw Compliance officers decides that a building or property is dangerous or unsightly and recommends that a demolition order be issued, the HRM Council Appeals Standing Committee (the “Committee”) reviews the matter. The Committee determines whether the property is dangerous or unsightly and issues a demolition order if necessary. In other municipalities, only Council can order demolition.
Rehberg owns a building (the “Property”) that was found to be dangerous or unsightly in January 2015 by a Bylaw Compliance Officer. The Committee gave Rehberg two months to bring the Property up to standard. He failed to do so.
In February 2015 a demolition order was issued for the Property by the Committee. Rehberg was given 120 days to fix the Property. If the repair work was not completed, the Property would be demolished. By November 2015, Rehberg had completed some repair work. He requested more time to complete the repairs to the Property. His request was denied by the Committee.
Rehberg applied to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court for judicial review of the Committee’s decision.
The Court found that the Committee failed to properly interpret the applicable law. The Committee appeared to base their decision in part on concerns involving the Building Code issues. While a building with Building Code violations may also be dangerous or unsightly, the two issues are not the same and require separate and distinct analysis under respective legislation.
Further, the Committee did not clearly specify what had to be done to the Property to remedy the situation and avoid demolition. The focus of the Committee was first on the structural soundness of the Property and then shifted to an assessment of whether the Property was safe for habitation. Habitability of the Property is a Building Code issue. It was not relevant to whether the Property was dangerous or unsightly.
The Court also found that the Committee should have considered the fact that the Property was not intended to be immediately lived in. It had been secured to prevent unauthorized access. The finding of whether a property is dangerous or unsightly must be made objectively, considering the use of the Property. Rehberg was making progress in repairing the Property. Though the Property was not yet habitable, it was structurally sound. The Committee failed to consider this progress.
The Court quashed the decision of the Committee and sent the matter back to the Committee for reconsideration.
When removal, demolition or repair of a property is ordered by a municipal unit, the order must clearly specify what must be done to fix the issues. Otherwise, the owner of a property does not know how to remedy the situation. Further, any analysis must apply the definition of “dangerous or unsightly” under the HRM Charter or Municipal Government Act, not other legislation such as the Building Code.
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