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.
“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.”