Earlier this year, the Supreme Court in British Columbia forced a landlord to forfeit two apartment buildings after marijuana grow operations were found on the properties. While the landlord had no specific knowledge regarding the operations, the court faulted him for poor tenant screening practices and a failure to routinely inspect the properties. This ruling reflected earlier court decisions from Ontario.
Now, Manitoba’s legislature is considering a measure that will make it easier for the government there to seize rental properties where illegal activities may have occurred.
The bill was introduced by the province’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Andrew Swan and represents an expansion of the new Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.
This law requires landlords to play an active role in preventing the criminal activities of tenants. It provides broad powers to the director of law enforcement to investigate complaints from the community, and take action including evicting problem tenants, terminating leases, and ordering the closure of rental properties.
Under the SCNA, complaints remain confidential. If the subsequent investigation concludes that there likely is criminal activity on the rental property, the director can then issue a Community Safety Order, with or without a Closure Order. If this happens, a copy of that order is served on the landlord, and a notice is posted at the property.
The Community Safety Order may require the owner to take steps to stop the problem or bar tenants from continuing in specified activities. The tenancy agreement of any tenant may be terminated, or the property may be closed for up to 90 days. Tenants who want to move back in have to apply for a variance.
The SCNA covers a number of illegal activities including unlawful drug use, dealing, production or cultivation or drugs, prostitution, unlawful sale of liquor, unlawful use or sale of intoxicating substances like solvents, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child, and possession or storage of an unlawful firearm, weapon or explosives.
If passed, the Swan amendment will shift the burden of proof to a rebuttable presumption of guilt–a legal standard that gives an edge to the government, in any court proceedings against a property owner for forfeiture under the criminal code if a Community Safety Order has previously been issued.
The new law also will require that the notice be filed in public land records, which will serve to place potential buyers on notice of the suspicion of criminal activity and possible seizure of the property.
The bill has passed a first reading. To become law, it must pass a second reading, and then go through a committee review, where public comments will be considered before passage.
The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is the first of its kind in Canada.
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