Town to get legal opinion on what's unsightly

Darrell Cole
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AMHERST - Amherst is asking its lawyer if it has the authority to determine just what is an unsightly premises beyond the scope of the Municipal Government Act.

"Our unsightly premises committee acts in accordance with the Municipal Government Act that sets the parameters for what is an unsightly premises. Some of it's very obvious, but there are some areas that are rather vague," town councillor and committee chair Robert Bird said Thursday.

While almost all Amherst properties are in compliance with the MGA when it comes to dangerous or unsightly premises, Bird said the town regularly receives complaints from residents and each complaint is investigated.

Most complaints are maintenance issues such as the grass being too long, paint flaking or the presence of junk or garbage. However, Bird admitted, there are complaints that are not easily addressed.

"We want to define within the confines of the MGA what the rules are for Amherst as to exterior uniformity," Bird said.

Bird's committee has been dealing with a complaint on Park Street, where a neighbour complained about the colour scheme of a house in that area. Personally, Bird finds the property unsightly, but under the Municipal Government Act there's little the town can do.

"The siding is properly installed and the paint is not flaking or peeling. The grass is being mowed and there's no derelict junk on the property," Bird said. "Is it ugly? To me, yes, but by the rules we have to comply with there's nothing we can do."

Council spent considerable time discussing the matter behind closed doors earlier this week during an in-camera session at which time it opted to seek legal advice on what it's options are.

Part of the problem, he said, is that precedent has already been set in Halifax a couple of years ago when a property owner, upset he could not get a development permit, repainted several properties using different colours for each piece of siding. Bird said Halifax council could not force the property owner to act and he's not sure Amherst would have the power to do the same.

In essence, he said the town does not have the authority to tell someone to put up new siding or new paint if the property meets the requirements of what's an unsightly premises under provincial legislation.

Still, he added, the town wants to know if it there's a way it can act to redefine a standard for Amherst.

"At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, to have a nice attractive community that looks as good as it can," he said.

Organizations: Halifax council

Geographic location: Park Street

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Recent comments

  • Juanita
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Why worry about a color of a house, at least they are trying to fix it up! What about all the empty houses in Amherst that ARE unsightly! There are many that are boarded up and no windows. There are many other abandon buildings that are spray painted with phrases that you should be covered and many, many pot holes in out streets! I guess that is what I would complain about! Oh ya, and all the landlords and that own apartments that are not fit for a pig and are allowed to rent out at crazy prices and people complain to the town building inspector, that does NOTHING about it!

  • Robert
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Thanks to everyone who posted comments on this topic. The goal of the committee is make the process as objective as possible and fair and reasonable for all our residents regardless of their economic situation.

  • momma
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Agree with you Peter from Amherst.. ...Rundown ,N.S did you not read Jennifers post ?she is not criticizing the bartons property therefore why not mention their name they were proud of their property and the kids liked it!!!

  • peter
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Leave things the way they are through the Municipal Governments Act. I don't want to end up being dictated to by the town or neighbors to live up to certain standards that they personally set. Things like garbage accumulating and a hazardous property, sure I can understand the need to act. but because you don't like the color of my house or length of grass, no. What is next someone don't like the flowers I plant.

  • Greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    We all know who the major offenders are in Amherst for unsightly property. The first is the dilapidated buildings which have fallen into disrepair and the second are certain citizens who buy them and don't fix them.

  • HB
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I heard neighbors complaining when I painted my house because they didn't like the colour (black). In fact I overheard them talking about calling the town. It never happened of course.

    Part of the problem is that what's unsightly can sometimes be subjective. In some areas they would prefer if I had put plastic (vinyl) siding on, I prefer the original look of wood. In other communities in NS vinyl siding is prohibited, and there are only certain colours you're allowed to use on exteriors.

    Personally I'm glad I live in a community that allows individuality. The bigger problem, as stated above, is derelict properties leading to vermin infestations and other problems. There's a house in my neighborhood with all the windows boarded up, has been this way for years. It's only residents are racoons, cats, birds, and quite possibly mice, bats, hopefully no rats but who knows. Those kinds of places are the ones that need to be dealt with. I can live with neighbors that have unusual tastes, rats are a different story.

  • Hippocrates
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Jennifer, you are so right. Hard to fathom people being so insensitive as to post street numbers of the properties in question in their comments, whereas you only go so far as to IDENTIFY ACTUAL PEOPLE BY NAME!

  • Bob
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Yah....a redefined standard would be like a restrictive covenant on your property that you didn't agree to...for example: You want your house green but wait people on that street don't want green...because to them its unsightly. Its a subjective question...some people could care less about the upkeep of grass while others will spray chemicals. Shall we start enforcing grass length guidelines and proper cutting etiquette to people?

    Problem with the term *unsightly* is as I said earlier its subjective, but when you couple it with the MGA provision Dangerious and Unsightly, I would think its something more than just general upkeep but something of closer to a hazard. Perhaps this is Council's attempt to have *unsightly* defined in ecnomoic terms. Your neighbours house affects the value of your home well then its unsightly!

    i think dangerious and unsightly are one and together. Something can be dangerious but not unsightly as well something can be unsightly but not dangerious. Easy answer it must be both. Dangerious and color siding is not dangerious

  • Davos
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Will this apply to commercial property as well as residential? There are lots of commercial buildings that I would consider unsightly - for example that place just down from the train station that used to be a club, now just sits there collecting graffiti.

  • Gwen Kerr
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Bob Hoskins is right. The far bigger issue here are vacant and derelict buildings. It is particularly sad that a number of our heritage buildings have been allowed to decay without any effective action from town council, but there are many others that have become quite hazardous.
    Ugly can't be defined by laws or bylaws. Sometimes the ugly houses become landmarks in their own right and attract as much attention from tourists as the beautiful properties.

  • lackie
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45


    The problem with the municipal Government Act and the way the town of Amherst enforces it, is the property owners have to be compliant, otherwise there is little the Town can/will do. There is a perfect example of this at 80 Hickman St. here in town. There is no need to to get a ruling about what is unsightly or not, this is an obvious infraction. There have been many complaints about this property, the owner partially complies then lets the property go. The town does nothing, so the complainants give up. Enforce the rules you have. Please.
    IMHO as always.

  • momma
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Agree with you Peter from Amherst.. ...Rundown ,N.S did you not read Jennifers post ?she is not criticizing the bartons property therefore why not mention their name they were proud of their property and the kids liked it!!!

  • neighborhood guy
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The siding is properly installed and the paint is not flaking or peeling. The grass is being mowed and there's no derelict junk on the property, Bird said. Is it ugly? To me, yes, but by the rules we have to comply with there's nothing we can do.

    I live in the neighborhood and take exception to the above quote by Mr. Bird, one the siding is not properly installed ie. lack of J channel around windows, different types of siding hooked together etc., and one good wind this winter and it will be all over the neighborhood, two, I walked by there this morning in fact there was 4 vehicles sitting in the yard of a property that is not lived in, the different colors I can live with but last count it was 8 different colors, let me ask all of you above to drive up park Street and look at the property on the corner of Park and Patterson and then come back and tell me you would like it sitting in your neighborhood, if you would maybe I can take up a collection and have moved there for you.

  • homer
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    To me it sounds like some people want to be big brother and dictate everything people do. Whats next, saying what type of cars people can have. Come on get a life!!

  • Jennifer
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I remember many years ago a house up on Belliveau or one of them streets that was owned by the Bartons, I believe, that had wooden shingles all painted different colours. They were very proud of that house and as kids we all thought it was cool.
    Now that was a long time ago, not sure why they painted it a solid colour.
    I find it sad that some of you are posting actual addresses on here.