COLUMN: Hoarding and property rights

Last week at the SD&G Summit held in Alexandria there was a presentation on hoarding made by South Dundas Director of Building & Planning Don J.W. Lewis. The photo and video presentation documented the extremes of hoarding that occur and how the township deals with it. It is an issue that all municipalities have to deal with and it is a difficult one.

Compulsive Hoarding is a mental condition, sometimes linked with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), extreme cases of ADHD, anxiety or depressions issues. It is a genuine mental condition that requires treatment, compassion, and understanding. Yes the hoarding site needs to be looked after to fix the safety issues, but there is a medical issue that are involved and must be addressed. Given the lack of mental health services and supports in the region, it is no surprise to see issues like hoarding occur.

There is hoarding, the mental condition, and then there is being a slob, which is an attitude.

“It’s my property and I can damn well do what I want,” quipped a comment made to Cornwall Newswatch’s Facebook page on Friday.

Yes you can, and no you cannot. Yes, it is your property and you can do what you want on it. You have the right as the property owner to do so. That is until what you do impacts someone else’s property.  Having a yard full of scrap metal doesn’t impact other property owners much. Having a yard full of garbage does, especially when said garbage smells and attracts rodents. That becomes unsanitary and impacts the area.

It is not right to use the mantra of property rights as a crutch for being a slob. Nor is it right to use said mantra to skirt bylaws involving scrap metal or other types of businesses. Both of which do occur in every municipality.

Municipalities throughout the region have bylaws dealing with storage of materials, how far they should be from a house or lot lines. There also are bylaws for people operating businesses, along with provincial and federal regulations. Ignorance of laws and regulations is not an excuse for ignoring them.

No one is saying that all properties should look like they belong on the Bridal Path. You can have your property look and be what you want, just so long as it doesn’t affect other people.

Part of the blame comes from lack of enforcement. Many rural municipalities do not have the staff to drive the roads and see if there are suspect properties. While many of the bylaws have been on the books for decades, enforcement has been slow to catch up. The process is complaint-driven. For example, according to Lewis, South Dundas received approximately 80 complaints in 2015.

Yes, it is your property, but it does not mean your actions should impact my property or anyone else’s. Municipalities need to start educating property owners on what the bylaws are, and enforce more when those bylaws are broken.

Most of the bylaws exist due to safety concerns, the bad apple that has spoiled the bunch. It is unfortunate. Yet, it is still your property and you can do what you want with it. Just don’t impact anyone else’s ability to do the same.