Bylaw Officers’ compassion goes a long way

When Edmonton bylaw enforcement officers Darlene Kutkinoff and Chantel Perizzolo realized the owner of a junk-filled Inglewood yard had mental health challenges, their innovative approach was adopted by their colleagues as not only cost-effective, but also humane.

The City of Edmonton’s 24 nuisance bylaw officers issued 8,228 unsightly premises notices to landlords and tenants last year; 92% of those premises were cleaned up within the required 14 days.

“Most of the 8% non-compliers either just don’t care, or they’re stubborn, so they wait until we issue a $250 ticket and threaten to move in a contractor to remove the junk,” says Darlene. Those removal costs can run well into the thousands of dollars.

“But this man, we realized, had severe hoarding tendencies. His yard was completely filled to waist-high with everything from old lawn mowers to bicycles to scrap metal and wood and three sheds,” says Chantel.

“He certainly has mental health challenges. He’s incredibly bright, so he has a plan for everything he had. He just never got around to it.

The officers realized that if they took the full enforcement route, the massive junk removal charge would end up on the homeowner’s tax bill, which he likely would not be able to pay. Even if he could pay it, they knew he’d begin reoffending as soon as his yard was cleaned.

A small slice of the kind of property clutter that the City of Edmonton’s 24 municipal enforcement officers can encounter at work. If homeowners don’t clean up, they can face junk removal costs as high as $10,000 or more.

A small slice of the kind of property clutter that the City of Edmonton’s 24 municipal enforcement officers can encounter at work. If homeowners don’t clean up, they can face junk removal costs as high as $10,000 or more.

“In the end, we saw that it would be better to engage him, gain his trust and progressively help him see how he could clean the yard in stages,” says Darlene, a 26-year veteran enforcement officer.”

“We knew that in the end, our investment in time with him would pay off with less time required in the future.”

Throughout the summer and fall of 2014, Darlene and Chantel continued visiting the 62-year-old man and making progressive suggestions for clean-up that they wanted done in time for their next inspection.

It began working, and will likely continue into this summer.

Part of what he did last year was clear an area around a tree so he could host the officers to tea! He even admitted enjoying the uncluttered space, which enabled him to have the social contact that he increasingly looked forward to.

“He was lonely. He started out suspicious of us, but now we joke all the time. He’s very proud of his relationship with us,” says Chantel.

Darlene says their experience – which made them finalists in the competition for a City Manager’s Award in 2014 – has shown their colleagues how important it is to look into the history of a ‘file’ before acting on it.

“Our section director and coordinator have given all of us us the freedom to make our own decisions about dealing with people with mental health issues, or with new Canadians who simply aren’t used to our community standards.

“Our officers are dealing humanely with more and more of those kinds of people now. We’re able to work with them to educate them rather than thrusting them into a penalty-focused process they may not even understand.”

Edmonton municipal enforcement officers Darlene Kutkinoff and Chantel Perizzolo have adopted a whole new approach to dealing with unsightly premises issues involving people with mental health issues, and their approach is spreading.

Edmonton municipal enforcement officers Darlene Kutkinoff and Chantel Perizzolo have adopted a whole new approach to dealing with unsightly premises issues involving people with mental health issues, and their approach is spreading.

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3 Comments
  1. veronica
    2 years ago

    I really hope that these two lovely ladies do win this award and get the recognition they deserve for their compassion and kindness.
    You do have those who are just plain messy or don’t care about their property but there are people who do have a mental issue resulting in things like hoarding behavior. They need our compassion and help. These ladies are not enabling this man (who is very brave for working on this with them).
    This was brought home to me in another way. I am in Edmonton myself but am originally from Toronto. I found out that my father seemed to have a hoarding issue after I was called back home after he passed away. I wish I had known before he passed away but he didn’t allow anyone in the house and I was too far away.
    These people don’t choose this behavior but they do need compassion and help in overcoming it. These wonderful city workers are just that wonderful <3 Thank you for restoring my faith in people.

  2. Lynn
    2 years ago

    This is such an encouraging story. If more people in more lines of work could take this kind of approach there would be far fewer individuals lonely and on the edge. Kudos to these fine city employees.

  3. fritz
    2 years ago

    Congrats to both officers. They are to be commended for this type of action they found d the beginning and the end of red tape and used in a very efficient and human n way, wow.

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