SUDBURY -- Most everyone has had "that"' neighbour -- they never cut their grass, leave garbage everywhere, use their front yard for long-term "storage" of broken-down cars, etc.

Earlier this month, Sudbury City Council toughened bylaws governing property standards and yard maintenance, bringing in new user fees and higher fines, after the number of complaints about these and other property issues has increased in recent years.

In 2017, the bylaw department handled 444 such complaints, rising to 690 the following year and 979 in 2019. In dollar terms, the city spent about $247,000 in 2019 enforcing the property standards bylaw alone.

To manage those costs and encourage compliance with the bylaw, the city council is taking aim at those who don’t comply with the rules. Refusing to, for example, cut your grass could not only lead to a $300 fine, but you could also be charged a $200 fee for staff time dealing with the complaint.

And if the city has to hire an outside contractor to fix the problem, you’ll face another $200 user fee, in addition to having to pay what the contractor charges the city. All those costs will be added to your property tax bill.

"This has been an ongoing issue for quite some time," said Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann during the city's April council meeting. "This is an opportunity to raise our property standards and our clearing of properties, as well. We have lagged behind other municipalities."

Brendan Adair, the city’s manager of bylaw and security, said Wednesday the goal isn’t to "fine our way out of the problem." In fact, Adair said residents who receive a bylaw notice about their property and fix the problem don’t face any fines at all. Only people who refuse to comply with the rules are penalized.

"If I direct you to cut your grass and you say 'I'm not going to do it,' and I issue you a fine …that doesn’t fix the problem," Adair said.

To address the issue in those cases, he said contractors have to be hired, he said, a fairly complex process that takes a significant amount of staff time.

"And that's another $200 user fee," Adair said.

The revised rules also allow bylaw officers to go out and look for violations, compared to the current practice of only acting on complaints from residents. Adair said the goal is to have bylaw officers issue 25-30 notices a year.

"Whether it be a dirty yard, a dilapidated vacant house, we understand this has an impact on the overall community," he said. "We’d like to be able to provide the level of enforcement to discourage this type of action in our community."

Councillors approved the changes unanimously April 14, and the new bylaw should be in effect within a few months, although the COVID-19 crisis makes that process more complicated.