A downtown St. John’s rowhouse recently assessed by an engineer as being in danger of “catastrophic collapse” has been put on the rental market, despite a lack of required approvals from city hall.
But the new owner of the Long’s Hill home — Mike O’Dea of Downtown Property Management — insists recent repairs have made the home safe, and he has an engineer’s report of his own to prove it.
O’Dea declined to provide a copy of his engineer’s report to CBC Investigates, or do a taped interview.
St. John’s council officials say they have yet to certify that report’s conclusions, or issue an occupancy permit for 73 Long’s Hill. That means no one is allowed to live there.
Despite that, the apartment was listed for rent on Kijiji last week for $995 per month.
Last Thursday afternoon, an undercover CBC producer equipped with a hidden camera went for a viewing of the apartment.
He was told by a rep from Downtown Property Management that he may need to act fast, because there were more viewings scheduled. The undercover producer was told he should have his deposit ready.
CBC Investigates contacted city hall later that day about the status of the property. Within 24 hours, inspectors had descended on 73 Long’s Hill.
But that wasn’t the first time city inspectors had visited the property. In fact, council has had a copy of the report warning of “catastrophic collapse” since the winter.
And officials had been dealing with the property’s new owner over permitting issues since then.
Previous owners found problems
CBC Investigates has been following the property for months, prior to its sale to Mike O’Dea.
The previous owners of 73 Long’s Hill say they are out hundreds of thousands of dollars related to problems uncovered before that sale.
Michael Birklein and Mieka West found that renovations done long ago had compromised the structural integrity of the house.
The Calgary couple bought the home as an investment property in 2007.
At the time, Birklein flew to St. John’s for a quick walk-through with a home inspector, then closed the deal.
But problems arose last year, when they were planning to sell it.
Their property manager, Gary Klemenz, noticed problems with the back wall.
City inspectors came to see the house for themselves soon after, and found the source of the problem in the basement.
There was no foundation under a two-storey addition that was built onto the back of the house years earlier.
The city ordered a structural assessment by an engineer.
That November 2013 report by Parsons Engineering concluded that “the entire structure is compromised, and will not be suitable for habitation without a full rehabilitation.”
'The whole structure is settling, and will continue to do so resulting in either continued and amplified deflections, wall cracking etc., or catastrophic collapse.' - November 2013 Parsons Engineering report
The engineer cited that two-storey addition at the rear of the home as the reason for the problems.
“The whole structure is settling, and will continue to do so resulting in either continued and amplified deflections, wall cracking etc., or catastrophic collapse,” the Parsons Engineering report noted.
“Its overall stability cannot be confirmed.”
In fact, the engineer noted, “the most likely reason that the house remains standing is an increasing reliance on adjacent attached properties.”
Birklein and West say they were stunned. They wanted to know how the addition had been approved by the city in the first place.
But even though the house is less than a kilometre from city hall, there is no record of permits ever being issued, or inspections carried out.
"Everyone turned a blind eye, as far as we're concerned,” Birklein said.
“Our selling realtor, our home inspector, the City of St. John's. This property should have never been inhabited."
Three separate contractors submitted estimates for the repair bill. Two quoted the job at around $200,000, with the third bid coming in closer to $300,000.
It was too much for the Calgary couple, so they decided to put it on the market.
They disclosed the problems associated with the property. The final sale price was $74,500.
"In the end, we sold it for land value,” Birklein said.
“We had to take money out of our own property to clear out the mortgage, so we're out a lot of money. Maybe $250,000."
New owner takes possession
The sale closed in mid-March. The buyer was Mike O'Dea of Downtown Property Management.
In early April, O'Dea took out a permit for "structural remediation." The estimated value of the repairs was $3,000.
But within a week, the city received a complaint about work being done without a permit.
When inspectors arrived, they found structural work had already been completed.
A few days later, a new permit was issued. The city insisted that a professional engineer would be required to provide certification on the structure. Other permits followed.
Finally, last Friday — the day after receiving CBC inquiries about the status of 73 Long’s Hill — city inspectors went through the house and discussed the completed work with the owner.
City officials say they are now preparing a report outlining deficiences, including permit values.
The initial Kijiji ad posted last week indicated the apartment would be available June 1.
A second Kijiji ad for 73 Long’s Hill posted Monday indicates that it is available immediately.
“Upper Level 3 Bedroom apt on LONGS HILL available NOW,” the advertisement notes, touting its fresh paint and laminate flooring.
But despite that search for tenants, no one is permitted to live there until the problems have been fixed to the city's satisfaction.