Effective as a bee sting on a rhino

The Latin term, caveat emptor, is a contract law principle that says ‘let the buyer beware’.

When a person makes a purchase, large or small, the buyer assumes the risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or have defects.

Caveat emptor flashes through my head every time I hear another condominium horror story.

Recently a very relieved renter, living in a million-dollar unit in a relatively new high-rise condo in downtown Calgary, regaled us with stories that had unfolded during the recent January deep freeze.

The heating system could not keep up and a hundred suites had no heat.

Emergency doors and stairwells froze up and gas stoves and space heaters, with windows cracked open, were used.

It’s now believed the developer used Vancouver’s building codes when designing the heating and air conditioning systems.

In Edmonton, a condo built in my neighbourhood had balconies rotting off and water leaking into units less than 10 years after construction.

The developer used California stucco to save money. That same developer changed its corporate name to avoid owners suing to recover their costs and continues to build and sell today.

In Fort McMurray, the Penhorwood condominiums were deemed uninhabitable, yet owners were liable for mortgages even after the building had been demolished.

Bellavera Green condos in Leduc were condemned, the contractor declared bankruptcy and the owners lost everything.

An engineering inspector concluded the Kensington Manor in Calgary was facing ‘a possible imminent building collapse’ forcing 125 seniors to make a quick evacuation.

City of Calgary taxpayers were on the hook to demolish the building.

The most recent horror story is Riverside Estates in Fort Saskatchewan.

Owners were kicked out with a moment’s notice. Engineers deemed their condo so ‘structurally unsafe’ that owners couldn’t enter to retrieve any of their possessions for three months while contractors shored up the structure to allow for safe removal.

Joists and beams weren’t put in proper places, structures were flawed from foundation to roof, fire alarm systems and firewalls weren’t up to code.

The construction mistakes were huge and individual owners and taxpayers bore the financial burden.

The provincial government and municipalities drive developers crazy with all the red tape involved in zoning and getting a permit to start construction. Maybe less red tape should happen in the approval’s phase and more time should be put into actual inspections during the construction phase.

The best building codes in the world are meaningless without vigilant enforcement.

In 2008 the Municipal Affairs department commissioned a report that recommended new regulations to govern the construction of multifamily residential projects.

Most notable was a recommendation requiring builders to have a certified and qualified engineering superintendent on-site throughout construction to ensure adequate oversight.

For most families buying a home is the single largest investment they will make in their lifetime, yet the vast majority of home purchasers are completely ignorant of the intricacies of construction and mechanical systems.

The legal standard of caveat emptor when purchasing a unit in a condominium project, or even a single-family home, protects equally the good and the bad developers and leaves purchasers completely exposed.

It is an unreasonable expectation that the chronically understaffed Safety Codes Officers (SCO) are sufficiently expert in everything, or able to catch much of anything as they run from construction site to construction site.

Through no fault of themselves, SCOs are set up to be as effective as a bee sting on a rhino.

In a province where the government wraps itself in the flag of populism— committed to policies representing the views of ordinary people—it’s hard to imagine the UCP would be so silent on the latest Fort Saskatchewan condominium fiasco.


B. Schimke

ECA Review

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