Structural weakness, coercion and duress: a condo project goes off the rails
Developer Legacy Homes did not comply with court order to do repairs on Riverside Glen development
Imagine paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a bungalow condominium close to a river and a golf course, only to learn city building inspectors think your new condo could face structural failure.
Then imagine learning the developer faced 56 charges in provincial court for not following orders issued by the city to fix the problems.
Add to that finding out the engineer who you believed was responsible for the structural integrity of your new home was suspended from practice as a result of his involvement in the project.
- Engineer disciplined over condos with structural issues but public not informed
- Owners of condos with structural problems question city's role in approving building plans
Those are just a few of the revelations contained in a flurry of lawsuits now before Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench related to the Riverside Glen development on Augier Avenue, near the Assiniboine River in west Winnipeg.
The development consists of 20 condominium units developed by Legacy Homes Ltd., a company operated by Neil William Hiebert and lawyer Kenneth Pass.
"This process has been very difficult for the plaintiffs, and they intend to advance this case through the court process and pursue all remedies available at law," said the condominium owners' board of directors in a statement to CBC News.
The people involved have so far been unwilling to be interviewed by CBC News, but their grievances are laid out in court documents.
Dozens of construction defects outlined
Most of the condo owners are suing Legacy Homes and others involved in the construction of the duplex condos. Legacy Homes, in turn, is suing George Pratt, an engineer who was involved in the project. It says Pratt didn't provide engineering and design services in a reasonable manner.
Pratt says in court filings his engineering seal was used on some designs, but he alleges those designs were subsequently changed by other people numerous times. He says he was "coerced into providing two reports regarding [Legacy's] project to the municipality, and did so without remuneration and as a result of duress."
Besides failing structural walls, construction defects outlined in the condo owners' claim include false walls erected to hide the failing structural walls, insufficient and deficient piling, deficient window framing and installation, improper vapour barrier, electrical deficiencies, deficient concrete pads in garages, problems with exterior stairways and basement stairs, absent and defective fire hydrants and about a dozen other items.
Legacy Homes refused to speak with CBC, but in a court filing, company director Neil Hiebert said, "Legacy Homes does not have the means to cover the remediation work asked for (estimates are running about $100,000 per home x 18 homes) and we continue to pursue the engineer and his insurer to make this right."
At least one unit was occupied as early as 2011, but the problems started coming to a head when City of Winnipeg building inspectors showed up in June 2013 to take a look at the condos.
Inspection reports noted problems with the foundations, including "irregularities that would indicate structural anomalies and weaknesses that could result in structural failure."
The city issued orders against Legacy Homes to submit reports by a licensed engineer either affirming the construction is in compliance with the Manitoba Building Code, or providing specifications for changes to bring the foundations into compliance.
Orders were issued in July 2013 and covered 18 of the 20 condos.
Legacy turned to Pratt for documentation, and while court records say Pratt did provide some drawings, they fell short of what the city needed.
As a result of non-compliance with the orders, Legacy's directors, Hiebert and Kenneth Pass, were charged on Jan. 29, 2014 for 16 violations of the City of Winnipeg Charter. Legacy was charged with 56 violations of the City of Winnipeg Building Bylaw.
The following year, the orders had still not been fulfilled, so in October 2015 a summary conviction order was issued against Legacy in provincial court.
The court imposed 19 fines of $230 each and one fine of $130, for a total of $4,500.
The city lawyer gave Legacy another year to fix the problems. Legacy paid the fines but once again failed to complete the work.
By November 2016, the case was back in court and the city's lawyer said the city was considering whether or not to pursue a contempt order under the Criminal Code.
The first condo owners to sue for damages were a couple who filed a claim in August 2015.
The couple had bought their condo from Legacy in 2011 at a price of about $372,000, court records show.
They allege that Legacy and Hiebert "actively concealed deficiencies in construction that were material to the contract to avoid detection of same."
The claim also alleges Legacy and Hiebert "unreasonably denied the existence of deficiencies in construction to avoid extra expense of repairing the condominium."
In a statement of defence, Legacy and Hiebert deny the condo owners suffered any damages due to any of their acts or omissions.
None of the allegations in the civil claims have been proven.
The organization that regulates the engineering profession, Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba, says it suspended Pratt's licence in March 2014 based on information received from the city.
Following an investigation, EGM reprimanded Pratt and restricted him from practising structural engineering. Pratt is still allowed to practise as an engineer in other disciplines.
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