The City of Nanaimo has deemed a house in Harewood that was the scene of a fire and site of an RCMP homicide investigation as a nuisance property.
The designation for the property at 52 Athletic St. was approved by city council at a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 21.
Dave LaBerge, city bylaws manager, reported that the property has been vacant and the house boarded up since a fire was set in the house and a body discovered there Aug. 11.
LaBerge said the city has dealt with complaints from neighbours since 2019 about “large accumulations of garbage” around the property.
“Our inspections determined it looked like it was an operating drug house – stripped bicycles and wire and a lot of people living in the yard, etc.,” LaBerge said. “We’ve worked with that property for about a year to remediate the issues at the time and the owners were quite responsive.”
He said the property came to the city’s attention again in 2021 for “similar types of situations that we were seeing in 2019.”
Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Lisa Fletcher said, in a letter to city bylaws last month, that Nanaimo RCMP had responded to 40 calls for service since Jan. 1, 2021, and that the property was “recently used during the commission of a serious assault and abduction with a firearm … the scene of a recent violent homicide … [and] there is significant concern for the safety of the public and mainly the persons within the community.”
LaBerge said the bylaws department intended to bring the matter before council nine months ago, but RCMP investigations took precedence.
“Over a period of about six months they executed three search warrants which were related to drug activity and some related violent crimes and, regrettably, it culminated [in] a homicide incident in early August,” he said. “There was a fire set in the property and since that time it’s been boarded up and a lot of the contents of the house were moved to the outside.”
LaBerge said the owners intend to clean up the property and sell it, but neighbours have reported that since the house has been boarded up there are still people associated to the house who return regularly, rummage through the contents and leave “provocative signs that are menacing the neighbourhood.” He said neighbours are reporting they are more fearful now than they were before the fire.
The property’s owner, Randolph Rauch, said at the meeting that he and his wife Susan intend to sell the property after the property is cleaned up and repairs are made by their insurance provider. They also have a trash removal service giving them an estimate on the cost of removing trash and “various other items of nuisance.”
Susan Rauch explained that their daughter, who is on disability, was living in the house.
“Unfortunately, our daughter has been taken advantage of and had people move in there who are not very responsible, in fact, not at all responsible, and so she’s trying to deal with the fact that the insurance sum hasn’t come through and she has nowhere to live,” she said.
Susan said she understood the neighbours are “fed up and we’re fed up too” and that they would be selling the property as soon as possible, which could be several months away depending on how long it takes for the insurance provider to have the house repaired.
“I’m sorry about all that’s been happening,” she said.
Randolph said he hopes people who were associated to the house will stop coming around once trash on the property has been cleared away.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he sympathized with the property owners, but supported the motion to apply the nuisance property designation.
“The situation, in fairness, has gone on for quite a long time and this is just the next step in formalizing the city’s response,” he said. “I appreciate your efforts and I hope you continue to work on solutions, but I think this is the appropriate step for the city to take at this time.”
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the costs to the city in dealing with the property have become significant. He said the nuisance property designation will not impact the homeowners’ ability to sell the property, but if there are further expenses resulting from responses by police and other city services, they will be charged for those costs.
“I can only encourage you, in the circumstances, to carry on with the cleanup as quickly as possible … that would probably be the most satisfactory arrangement,” Krog said.
The motion passed unanimously.