Quebec to improve building inspections

The death of a man killed in the collapse of an apartment building garage in Montreal in 2008 was avoidable, said a Quebec coroner in a report released Friday.

Montreal garage collapse avoidable: coroner

Mahamat Saleh Khazali, 36, was crushed when the roof of his car fell under the weight of falling concrete in the building in the citys St-Laurent district. ((CBC))
Quebec's building inspection board is promising an overhaul of regulations after a provincial coroner ruled the death of a man killed in the collapse of a Montreal apartment building garage was avoidable.

Mahamat Saleh Khazali died when the roof of his car was crushed by the weight of falling concrete in the garage in October 2008.

The immigrant from Chad had been working for a courier company inside the building in the city's Saint-Laurent district.

There were defects in the construction of the parking garage at 135 Deguire Blvd. and the structure was poorly maintained, said coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier.

Salt infiltration corroded the steel frame and led to the degradation of the concrete slab, she said.

Attempts to repair the concrete only made the situation worse, she said in her report.

The slab was never replaced — but was covered by a layer of fresh concrete, which only masked the problem, said Rudel-Tessier.

And, the coroner said there were warning signs about the problems. 

"Tenants would say, 'I saw there was salt on my car, small pieces of concrete were falling, there was water infiltration, we heard weird sounds,' but an untrained eye could not know what is the impact of that," Rudel-Tessier said.

The province’s building inspection board, the Régie des batiments, should carry out regular inspections and put in place a maintenance schedule for landlords, the coroner recommended in her report.

A failure to comply would result in sanctions, she said.

The board should also make a greater effort to publicize its toll-free hotline for tips from concerned citizens, said Rudel-Tessier.

Building owners must ensure that work is supervised by qualified engineers, said the coroner, who issued a particular warning to the owners of buildings built more than 20 years ago, before strict new construction norms were put in place.

"Buildings built in the 1980s are more susceptible to showing important structural defects," Rudel-Tessier wrote in her report.

Building owners shouldn’t wait for problems to occur before ordering inspections of their property by qualified experts, she said.

New regulations coming

Following the incident, the board said it launched a major wave of inspections, checking more than 100 underground parking lots.

It has also intensified efforts to make building owners aware of the need to make sure their property is safe.

Employees of the company that owned the building could not be expected to see the signs that there was a problem, said CAP REIT CEO Tony Schwartz. ((CBC))
New maintenance standards, including sanctions, will go into effect in 2011, the board said Friday.

The standards will include a schedule of maintenance, particularly for older buildings.

It will be up to the buildings owners to pay for an inspection by engineering firms, the board said.

The owner of the building where Khazali was crushed, CAP REIT, which purchased the building in 2005, said it couldn’t have predicted the problems. 

The repairs to the garage were done by a previous owner, said company CEO Thomas Schwartz.

"He didn’t have a permit for that repair and then he masked it, so CAP REIT staff could not have been expected to see that," said Schwartz.

Cracks and falling pieces of concrete are normal for a parking garage that is more than 40 years old, he said.

"When we buy a  building we do careful due diligence. When we did our due diligence there was no evidence of anything of this gravity," said Schwartz.

Citizens concerned about the safety of buildings in Quebec can contact the Régie du batiment at 1-888-271-1827

Schwartz said the entire garage has been rebuilt.

Tenants of the building who were forced from their apartments for months are hopeful their problems are over.

"This probably was the wake-up call," said tenant Arda Chichmanian. "It is unfortunate that this incident had to happen for them to wake up that these buildings need to be inspected in every which way."