Nova Scotia

Cape Breton to start demolishing hundreds of old homes

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is still putting a dent in its list of nearly 400 derelict buildings, many of them homes that used to belong to coal miners or steel plant workers.

Buildings were once home to coal miners, steel workers and their families

Cape Breton Regional Municipalty is targeting nearly 400 derelict buildings for demolition, many of them in former coal mining or steel making communities. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is pressing ahead with plans to demolish nearly 400 derelict buildings, starting with 17 slated to come down over the next few months.

Many of them are homes that used to belong to coal miners or steel plant workers, left behind after those industries disappeared from Cape Breton 20 years ago.

Paul Burt, CBRM's manager of building, planning and licensing, said the municipality can only afford to get rid of 10 every three months and normally has to get council approval first.

"COVID has certainly slowed us down a little bit, so we're trying to get caught up on our list," he told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton. "That's why we went with 20 this time and by the time we made it to council, I had it whittled down to 17."

Some owners demolish derelict buildings on their properties after getting a municipal order to do so, Burt said.

Some cannot afford the minimum $6,000 cost to tear down the old buildings themselves, so CBRM does the work and adds it to the tax bill, he said.

A man stands on the sidewalk next to Esplanade, the main street into downtown Sydney.
Paul Burt, CBRM manager of building, planning and licensing, says there is little the municipality can do to find unscrupulous landlords on its own. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Many of those get paid off over time, although some do have to go to tax sale, Burt said.

During the municipality's next round of demolitions, CBRM has set its sights on some former coal company duplexes.

"Three more of those are going to bite the dust," Burt said.

"Those are always difficult, because in a lot of situations, you've got an empty side and an occupied side, so during our review this time we identified three that both sides were empty and derelict and so they're always exciting to get those ones down on the ground."

The municipality had a list of about 600 derelict homes needing to be torn down in 2017, but that number had dropped to 480 by the end of 2019.

Over the last few months, about 40 have been taken down by property owners or, in a few cases, by CBRM in situations where the building posed a danger.

After the next round is finished, between 350 and 400 will be left, Burt said.