COVER

When it rains, they leak

JENNIFER HUNTER April 27 1998
COVER

When it rains, they leak

JENNIFER HUNTER April 27 1998

When it rains, they leak

COVER

JENNIFER HUNTER

The condominium owners living at 650 Moberly Rd. in Vancouver had no idea anything was seriously wrong with their 11-year-old, four-storey building. There were a few leaks in the north wall, so they called in a contractor for what they thought would be routine repairs. As he chipped away some stucco, all he found was interior rot. An engineer quickly determined the surface had not been properly laid to protect the wood underneath from the incessant Vancouver rain. The entire wall would have to be replaced. Cost: $500,000. “From the outside, our condominium looks fine,” says resident Brad Watson. “But the rot inside is like a cancer. You can just reach

in and crumble the wall with your fingers."

It is cold comfort to the owners of 650 Moberly, but they are not alone in suffering from what Watson calls “an epidemic” infecting British Columbia—the leaky condo problem. The B.C. Condominium Home Owners Association estimates that repairs to buildings seriously damaged by water over the past 15 years could cost as much as $1 billion—in the same range as the damage from the Manitoba flood and the Quebec-Ontario ice storm. Alvin Myhre, past president of the owners’ association, estimates that 80 per cent of the buildings erected in the past 10 years have suffered some damage. In an already depressed property market in Vancouver, the water prob-

lems have made condos virtually impossible to sell. “This is a catastrophe,” says Watson. “It’s a horrible mess that the whole industry has to address—the regulators, the builders, the designers and the architects.”

How did it happen? During British Columbia’s real estate boom earlier this decade, condos seemed to rise magically out of building sites. Now, it is becoming apparent that flawed designs, inexperienced workers and poor materials combined to produce many exterior surfaces that are simply incapable of repelling the ravages of a rainy climate. “No one seems to want to take responsibility,” says Nora Grove, owner of a two-bedroom unit in a damaged building in Vancouver’s False Creek neighborhood. “And who should be blamed? The municipal inspector? The architect who designed the building? The contractor who used shoddy materials?”

In many cases, the original contractors have left town or changed the company name. Going after them in the courts would be costly and, possibly, fruitless. “The money we’d spend to sue is better used to repair the building,” says Watson. Saying she wants to “change the notion that British Columbia is the leaky condo province,” Municipal Affairs Minister Jenny Kwan asked former premier Dave Barrett to report by May 29 on who is responsible for the problem. But even if the province ultimately steps in with financial aid, repairs will take time and condo owners will continue to worry. “Every time it rains,” says Grove, “you wonder if there’ll be another leak.” The longrange forecast for Vancouver: more rain.