Owners of vacant properties in Winnipeg could face bill for fires caused by squatters

A possible amendment to the Vacant Property By-law could leave vacant property owners on the hook for firefighter service costs if their property burns down. Mike Albanese has more.

By Mike Albanese

Vacant building fires continue to be a problem in Winnipeg, with another one just this week.

Next week, the property and development committee will vote on a motion that would see the owners of vacant buildings that catch fire on the hook for the costs of fire crews battling the blaze.

The potential new amendment to the Vacant Buildings By-law could incentivize the owners of these buildings to keep them vacant for far less time.

“It’s a good step. It’s a punitive measure,” said housing advocate Sel Burrows.

According to a City of Winnipeg report, vacant homeowners would be charged for fires that are likely caused by squatters who reside in improperly secured vacant buildings.

They wouldn’t be on the hook if the fire originates from unrelated arson, natural disaster, or collision from a vehicle. The charges would be $1,357 per hour for an apparatus like an aerial ladder to attend a fire and $340 per hour for a district chief on scene.


“I want a tough-as-nails approach. We have too much blight in every ward of the city,” said Sherri Rollins, chair of the property and development committee. “If the pumper is there for 10 hours, you’ll be charged $13,000-$14,000.”

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service reported a total of 1,565 responses to vacant buildings from 2019 to 2021.

With the suggested fees, the estimated amount that would have been available to invoice under the proposed amendments for responses in the period is $1,406,396.

WATCH: As another vacant home burns in Winnipeg, advocate calls for action

“I think they are very likely to pass,” added Rollins. “I do believe council wants a tough-as-nails approach to vacant buildings. Why? We’re in a housing crisis and there’s no Ward councillor that isn’t called when neighbours are upset about vacant buildings causing blight.

“It’s just ugly, in an otherwise beautiful neighbourhood, a beautiful street, it’s just ugly to see a boarded-up building.”

Burrows says this is just the first step the city should take to eliminate the almost 700 vacant homes in the city. He wants to see the city go even further to ensure these houses get back on the market or become affordable housing.

“It’s a quarter of a million dollars to build a new unit for a homeless person, meanwhile places that qould take $25,000 to renovate and fix up, and be innercity housing for difficult-to-house people are burning down.”

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