CBC Investigates

Calgary problem property has neighbours at wit's end after 157 police visits, 53 bylaw infractions

The property owner has had two other houses closed for alleged drug activity and has $41,500 in outstanding fines for the condition of her properties.

Police officers 'almost apologetic' when addressing those living in the surrounding area

The house and its residents have been the subject of 157 visits from Calgary police and 53 bylaw infractions since 2010. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Good fences make good neighbours, but residents in Calgary's Crescent Heights neighbourhood say they need more than a barrier when it comes to one problem property. 

"It always seems to be a fairly quiet house, right up until it's not. And when it's not quiet, it seems like it's on the brink of war," said one neighbour we're calling Peter.

CBC has granted anonymity at the request of residents who live near the property. 

Neighbours in the area have described multiple occasions where arguments and altercations have spilled from within the small 1920s house into the yard and street, creating public spectacles for all to see.

Disagreements between residents and tenants

Calgary police officers have visited the home 157 times since 2010. 

Disagreements are typically sparked between the residents who live on the main floor, and the renters who live in the basement, Peter said. He described one occasion when police were called and stationed across the street with the downstairs tenant. Meanwhile, the upstairs resident came outside and "aggressively" threw an axe into the house's porch. 

I think it's great to bring more publicity to this madness. So that maybe people realize how brutal the system is.- Simon, former Crescent Heights resident

"I thought that that seemed to be a very blatant display of aggression and a threat," he recalled. 

But Peter doesn't blame law enforcement for the continuing problems at the address. He has interacted with officers on multiple occasions and said one officer seemed "almost apologetic."

"He was aware of the history of the house, the hundreds of calls that have taken place, some of which I have made myself.  He seemed apologetic, that's the best way to put it," Peter said. "It's kind of dampening a fire, but letting it still smoulder, so to speak."

Multiple authorities involved

Two former residents of the area confirmed the house has been a problem for at least a decade. We are calling the couple Simon and Barb. Their main recourse in dealing with the property was to file complaints with the city bylaw office.

"We made a number of complaints simply because it was keeping our family awake at night. It was unsightly for our own property," Barb said. 

Through Freedom of Information, CBC obtained records of the bylaw complaints dating back to 2010, including furniture hoarding in the backyard, icy sidewalks, animals barking and more.

This West Hillhurst home is also owned by Eva Yuen and was closed in 2013 by the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Unit due to suspected drug activity. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

In that time period there were 53 founded bylaw complaints, many of which required repeat visits from bylaw officers. There were additional complaints that were unfounded, or fell outside the purview of the city's bylaws. 

Two complaints resulted in the city contracting out the work needed to remedy the situation when the owner failed to comply, the combined cost of that work was over $1,000. 

The most recent complaint obtained by CBC was from August when a neighbour complained about the state of the property, calling it "filthy, disgusting and uninhabitable."

The caller said a fight at the house the night before, attended by Calgary police, left the residence with no front door after it was kicked in.

In the report associated with the complaint, the bylaw officer seemed to pass the buck. He wrote the premises appeared to be OK from the outside, but if police officers had found the house unlivable, they would have called Alberta Health Services (AHS).

"This is not a matter for [bylaw]," it read. 

Under the city's community standards bylaw, all residential properties must be kept in "good repair."

"The bylaw officers and the police officers are exhausted with it too. They're fed up. I feel badly for them, their hands are tied as well," Barb said. "There's not much they can do, but that has to change."

Landlord owes $41K in fines

Eva Yuen is the owner and one of the tenants of the property. Yuen declined an interview with CBC but categorically said any allegations made by her neighbours are false. 

In August 2015, she was ordered to pay $41,500 in fines after being charged with 83 counts of breaking the Public Health Act. These charges were associated with living conditions at the Crescent Heights home and three other properties she owned at the time. 

Yuen was given one year to pay the fines, but had the deadline extended. She still hasn't made a single payment against the file. Additionally, between two other properties, Yuen owes more than $20,000 in property taxes and penalties.

In 2012 and 2013 respectively, two of Yuen's other residential properties were temporarily closed by Alberta's Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Unit (SCAN) after the team allegedly found evidence of drug activity on the premises.

"It's infuriating. I cannot believe that nothing has been done. Why can't people who are law-abiding citizens in that community be protected over and above what she's doing? I think that's outrageous," Barb told CBC.   

From August until November, the basement suite of the Crescent Heights address was shuttered by AHS due to unsuitable living conditions. 

City councillor seeks 'more permanent solution'

Simon and Barb say when they lived in the area they reached out to Druh Farrell, their city councillor, but saw no results. 

"You wonder, how does it get to a point where there are so many calls to the police service? Just the sheer cost to the police with all these calls and unaddressed issues. We'll have to see if there's more we can do advocating for the residents," Farrell said. 

"How do you instill in someone that it's so much easier to be a good neighbour than a bad neighbour?"

According to Farrell, SCAN has investigated the property in Crescent Heights but was unable to find adequate evidence to block entry to the home.

In the meantime, Farrell encouraged residents to stay the course and call the police and bylaw as needed. 

"I think it's great to bring more publicity to this madness. So that maybe people realize how brutal the system is," Simon said.

About the Author

Sarah Lawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik is a freelance journalist based in Calgary. Sarah has worked for CBC in Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary before deciding to travel as a freelancer, reporting from different corners of the world including France, Hungary and Iraq.