Philip Cassata sees it all the time in his work as a Prosecutor for the City of Brampton — homeowners who represent themselves against property standards charges, risking their homes, livelihoods and peace of mind.
“People will pay paralegals $300 to fight a ticket and avoid three demerit points,” he told the monthly Licensed Paralegals Association, April 27, “But they won’t pay $500 to avoid a $50,000 fine or the loss of their home. They don’t take it seriously enough and try to fight it themselves.”
Representing owners who have been charged with failing to comply with an order under municipal bylaws and provincial codes is a largely untapped market for paralegals, Cassata says. Penalties are steep, ranging from $50,000 for a first offence conviction for a homeowner and up to $200,000 for subsequent offences against a corporation. Costs can be ordered by a Superior Court, as in the case of an Emergency Order. Jail time is available for certain provincial offences.
Investigations usually begin with a complaint from a neighbour or tenant. Inspectors look into the matter and issue orders to comply with municipal bylaws and provincial acts. These include maintenance issues, safety deficiencies, weed control problems, inoperable vehicles in driveways, trash and noise complaints. In Brampton, the same department investigates licensing issues against businesses, such as massage parlours.
Orders include a compliance date. Failure to complete work or make changes ordered by an inspector will result in a charge of failing to comply. Orders and liens remain on the property title until the property is in compliance and the fines paid, Cassata explained.
Failing to Comply With an Order charges are heard in Provincial Offences Court. Cassata says meeting with the prosecutor is a good first step; due diligence is among the factors considered in handling building code and property standards matters.
An appeal of a conviction for Failing to Comply with a Property Standards Order in Brampton goes first to the Property Standards Committee, a citizen board. It may confirm, modify, rescind or extend time to comply with an Order. A Committee decision may be appealed to the Superior Court, where a final decision is binding.
Cassata’s office deals with such legislation as the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B; Building Code Act S.O. 1992, CHAPTER 23; Fire Safety and Prevention Act S.O. 1997, CHAPTER 4; and the Municipal Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 25. Cassata, a paralegal, said the Prosecution Division diligently complies with case law and other guidance around owners’ rights. For example, staff rely on R. v. Pickles, 2004 CanLII 60020 (ON CA), when considering Limitations and Discoverability issues.
The LPA holds monthly meetings to keep members up to date on issues that affect them, and offer Continuing Professional Development courses.