New record set as Southview Calgary drug house shut by SCAN a third time
'I don't think judges understand what's happening'
For Seth Barlow, the worst was the pit bull.
It jumped the fence at the drug house several doors down from his Southview home — chased him on top of a car, then mauled the back of his leg as he sprinted toward a neighbour's house.
"I had to hit him to get him off," said Barlow.
"I ran right in without knocking, without anything. I fell right on the floor and there [my neighbour] is baking cookies with her granddaughter and I'm on the floor bleeding: 'Call 911.'"
"They came … then they returned the dog five days later."
That's one of many stories neighbours of one east Calgary house tell after the owner seems to have welcomed anyone to stay a night, use drugs, do sex work and other activities at the house more than five years ago.
The house has now set a new record.
The property at 2000 Cottonwood Crescent, just south of International Avenue, earned a third 90-day shut-down order this summer — the first and only time any residential property has been shut that many times by provincial sheriffs.
The property also has two Alberta Health Services orders, which condemn the entire building as unfit for human habitation. The City of Calgary-led compliance team is also on the case.
CBC Calgary left a note at the house weeks ago inviting the owner to share his side of the story but did not receive an answer.
Damon McGillivray, the city's coordinator of building inspections, said this is not the only problem house in Calgary and they've now decided to step up enforcement city-wide. But first, they'll start the process to demolish the house unless the owner can get a permit to repair or take it down himself before Oct. 19.
A long-haul for neighbours
Neighbours wonder how a problem like this could last so long.
Community association president Wendy Whitehouse estimates police have been called out between 150 and 200 times over the last two-and-a-half years. City bylaw officials are constantly responding, and Alberta Health Services officials have been inside with hazmat suits; it's been before the courts multiple times.
"If nothing else, it's the enormous cost," she said. "If you add up all the people hours that have gone dealing with that home, it has to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it has cost the taxpayers. And yet, here we are, still dealing with that home."
Local residents flagged the issue when CBC Calgary was working out of the area during the recent federal election campaign. Later, half a dozen neighbours gathered at the nearby community hall to talk about it.
Sylvia lives nearby. CBC has agreed not to use her last name as she is worried about retribution. She says she's known the owner more than 15 years.
"Everything was fine [but] then he lost his wife, lost his job. No income coming in so he found other ways of doing it and that's when all the issues started," she said. "We had the drugs coming in, the ladies walking in. Just people all over. People came into our yard a few times, the theft started going. Very sketchy people and we didn't go out at night, or I didn't."
Sylvia's husband Ron says he can't figure out why it's taken so long.
"We've all been reporting it and the police presence has been really good," said Ron, who was also nervous about using his last name. "When they shut him down the last time, they took out three bags of yellow containers that they use for needles. So you know what's going on in that place."
Leanne Schneberger lives a short distance away. She's been working with the immediate neighbours, collecting stories to help a judge see the damage a house like this does.
"There's a kid in the neighbourhood who had a knife pulled on him. And he was scared it was maybe his fault for walking too close," she said. "I don't think judges understand what's happening and the impact to the neighbours not feeling safe to use their own home. That spreads out because the people who go to that house spread out. They're breaking into our garages, breaking into our yards."
"It is crazy," added Barlow. "Like the girls who have come out of there, naked, stumbling. Like, everyone who comes out of there is stumbling, hitting something, falling on the ground or whatever. It's pretty bad."
Provincial response to problem sites
In Alberta, when a problem involves many different people but the same property, the provincial sheriff team called Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) gets involved. They rely on tips from neighbours, do covert surveillance and, in many cases, work with the landlords to get the property managed better.
"It becomes difficult when the house isn't a rental property," said Const. Miguel Lay, a community resource officer who has been working with residents on the issue.
"You know the old thing: a man owns his castle. Well, it's hard to take a man's castle away. There are a lot of municipal bodies that need to be involved with actually legally seizing someone's home."
But at the same time, residents were finding needles and condoms around their garages, plus the constant stream of strangers in and out. The second time the house was shut down, Lay says police removed roughly 15 people who were living there. That's against city bylaws.
In this case, the sheriffs gathered evidence and a judge granted the first order in October 2018. At that point, police said they had already responded to 30 incidents at the house, including a fatal overdose.
The house was shut again in September 2019. That time sheriffs found the owner had been breaking the terms of re-opening by letting guests come back, and the police record for the property included an assault with a baseball bat and a hammer.
The house was shut the third time April 26.
The neighbours say this will be on their minds as they vote in October. Many of them say the penalties should increase each time, that if there was more political will to act, these court orders would be better enforced and their rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their own property protected.
City officials say they're doing more
McGillivray says the city is stepping up and taking action faster now than in past years. His team now has a list of roughly 300 properties causing these kinds of problems for neighbours. This year they have three properties moving toward demolition. That's also a record.
"When it comes to a derelict house like this, I'd say there are less than a handful that we've done in the past, which is part of the reason we're in this predicament now," he said. "There are these problems sitting out there. Residents are getting very frustrated as they're sitting there and nothing's being done."
"We don't want to be going on this path," McGillivray added. "The economy is in a downturn right now … Some of the property owners may not have any other options. [But] if it's really impacting the health and safety of the community, we need to take some action. We need to clean this stuff up."
The cost of fencing and demolition are added to the owner's tax bill.
Barlow says he's hoping "third time's a charm" and the chaos will finally end for his neighbours.
But there is one good thing that's come of all this: "All of us have come together. All of us talk to each other on the neighbourhood chat; we walk our dogs, come visit. And you know, now that it's been fenced up for the third time, something is being done about it," he said. "[If it actually comes down], we're probably just going to have a big block party."
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