City-run graffiti removal program in Edmonton extended into winter

The City of Edmonton is extending its professional graffiti program into the winter, after hiring a new contractor with the equipment needed to remove paint in cold weather.

In its Professional Graffiti Cleaning Program, the city pays up to $750 for professional cleaners to remove vandalism.

The program has existed for several years and hundreds of people have applied and received the service, the city said. 

In August alone, the city received more than 160 complaints about graffiti to personal property. In September so far, nearly 150. 

This year, the city has hired Goodbye Graffiti to remove unwanted paint and spray paint during colder temperatures, city spokesperson Chrystal Coleman said Friday. 

Last year, 470 property owners took advantage of the program, up from about 370 in 2018. 

With the extended program, Coleman said the city is encouraging more people to get graffiti removed as soon as possible. 

Stephanie Hendin, property manager of two buildings south of Stony Plain Road, one of nearly 240 people who has used the program so far this year, is on board with that idea.

“It would be nice if it was gotten rid of sooner,” Hendin said in a phone interview Friday. “And if the city program allows that to happen then property owners should take advantage of it.”

Hendin said if unsightly tags are removed quickly, it’s more likely they’re not to return as quickly. 

“In the long run, maybe these people who are doing that will decide, ‘Oh I’m just going to be wiped away within days so why am I bothering?’ One can hope.”

The cost of a job is based on several factors, including the size of the defaced surface, the material used — paint, marker or spray paint — the kind of surface vandalized, how long the job takes and the technique required. 

The $750 usually takes care of two to three instances, Coleman said. 

Hendin said the $750 cap must have covered the cost to remove the graffiti because she wasn’t billed for the difference.

This year so far, the city has spent $56,000 on the program. In 2020, they spent $143,000. 

Remove or face fines

Property owners are responsible for making sure graffiti is removed from their buildings. 

One business owner hit hard in 2019 said he painted over graffiti that appeared several times on his building’s facade last year. 

Waitin Ng, proprietor of Elements Holistic Centre, told CBC News that he wasn’t confident the $750 would take care of the damage done to his building on 99th Street. 

“I don’t know how much it actually may cost and once you call them and they start working, I can’t say ‘stop it’s $700 now.’ ” 

The wall facing the street is 70 feet long and the side facing the alley would be another 15 feet, Ng said. 

Waitin Ng, proprietor of Elements Holistic Centre on 99th Street, painted over tags sprayed on his building last spring. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Ng received a notice from the city that he had to remove the graffiti or face a $250 fine.

“Sometimes I only received the notice with only a week’s time to get it done,” Ng said.  “It’s kind of unfair that being the victim of your wall being destroyed by graffiti and then you have to look after it and be responsible for it.” 

Coleman said bylaw officers often spend weeks communicating with business owners to help resolve the vandalism. 

“Property owners are given lots of time to comply with the bylaw,” Coleman wrote. 

The city sends a notice to comply, which includes information on the Professional Graffiti Cleaning Program. 

If bylaw officers notice the graffiti hasn’t been cleaned, they will issue an order to have it removed. 

If it’s still not removed, they can schedule a contractor to clean it up and then bill the property owner. 

Under the city bylaw, officers issued nine fines so far this year, down from 32 in 2019. 

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