02/21/2013 03:58 EST | Updated 04/23/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Housing Complaints: New Agency Targets Problem Properties


VICTORIA - British Columbians dealing with neighbourhood crack shacks and other problem properties will soon be able to file anonymous complaints to a new agency rather than police.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said the yet-to-be named agency will be created as part of legislation she will introduce later Thursday.

"Other jurisdictions have this legislation and it's time British Columbia joined that group or provinces," Bond said, adding premises that provide illegal services such as prostitution will also be targeted.

"This will be a civil process so it doesn't deal with criminal issues, and it would need to be demonstrated that the behaviour is repetitive."

Officials at the agency will contact the property owner and residents about complaints and charges could result if the issues are not resolved, Bond said.

Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich said chronic offenders often live in problem locations that can make an entire neighbourhood feel chaotic and unsafe.

"The crime rates we are trying to drive down can be deeply affected by one or two problem premises in a community," Rich said.

"We, for example, have a goal, as part of our strategic plan in Abbotsford, of ending problem premises within three months of realizing that we have that problem," he said.

"But I can tell you also that we're failing. We succeed in most of the premises that we go after but we run up against blocks where the premise is owned, for example, by a person who's problematic or doesn't wish to solve the problem."

Bond said she will also introduce legislation to make it easier for volunteer agencies that work with vulnerable children and adults to get criminal record checks on their volunteers.

She said volunteers are often required to undergo more than one record check to serve a number of organizations at a cost of up to $40 each time but the checks will be free under the amended legislation.

Volunteers with non-profits that opt into the proposed program would have to consent to sharing the results of their criminal record checks, allowing them to move more easily between agencies.

"We hope to have it up and running by end of November," Bond said.

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