Rude text prompts councillor to call for referee in infill disputes

Coun. Jeff Leiper wants the builders' industry to establish an ombudsperson who would handle disputes between neighbours and builders that arise during infill projects. Builders say the idea is unrealistic.

Local builders' association believes proposal of ombudsperson 'unrealistic'

Coun. Jeff Leiper posted this image of a Kitchissippi Ward resident's exchange with a construction company. He's asked people to share their construction horror stories. (Jeff Leiper)

It was the text that broke the councillor's back.

For years, Coun. Jeff Leiper and his staff have received complaints about infill construction problems, including property damage, trespassing, work that begins too early, equipment that blocks sidewalks and pathways, and storm water drained onto neighbouring properties.

He's even received complaints of infill builders helping themselves to a next-door neighbour's power or water.

To add to the frustration, many of the issues — such as alleged property damage —  fall outside of the powers of City Hall, and can only be handled through the legal system.

So when a developer texted one of his constituents, calling the resident "an idiot," Leiper decided he'd had enough. 
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper and his staff field complaints every week about infill developers. (Jean Delisle/CBC News)

Leiper is proposing the builders' association fund an ombudsperson who would handle complaints about infill construction, with "a mandate to solve disputes between neighbours and builders before it gets to the point of having to go to court, in order to relieve the pressure on some of our bylaw officers."

Builders would have to agree to participate voluntarily in the conflict-resolution process, and abide by any decisions reached, he said.

Resident says 'no carrots' for good behaviour

Bob LeDrew likes the idea. He's the one who was called "an idiot" by builder Anthony Casoni, who's building two semi-detached homes next to LeDrew in the Champlain Park neighbourhood of Kitchissippi ward, near Scott Street and Island Park Drive.

LeDrew had agreed to allow a security fence to be installed on his property during the excavation of the project next door.

When he noticed the excavation was complete, LeDrew called Casoni. When the builder didn't return his calls, LeDrew texted Casoni, asking for the fence to be moved.

"Where exactly do you want me to put it?" Casoni texted. 

"I don't know, but I'm sure you can figure that out," LeDrew replied. "Thank you."

Then Casoni, who declined to speak with the CBC, texted LeDrew: "You're an idiot."

"It was shocking, but it was not unbelievable," said LeDrew of the exchange. Living in a neighbourhood that is undergoing infill-style intensification, "you hear stories like this. You hear of people being treated with a lack of courtesy, you hear of people being frustrated."

LeDrew believes a central problem with the developer-neighbour relationship is that "there are no carrots… no rewards for developers to behave really well" and also no punishment for developers who behave badly.

Not realistic: builders' association

But an ombudsperson wouldn't fix that problem, according to John Herbert, the executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association.
John Herbert, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association, says the idea of a voluntary process to settle the disputes is unrealistic. (CBC)

"We certainly don't have the authority, legally, or the financial ability to act as an ombudsman's capacity in any shape or form," said Herbert. "I think if these poor-quality builders are not threatened by the City of Ottawa, they are certainly not going to act through the actions of any ombudsman, because they're going to be toothless."

The builders' association is a voluntary one that attracts companies that, among other things, are interested in acting more professionally, Herbert said. So it's unlikely that poorly behaved contractors are even members of the association, let alone be willing to participate in the conflict resolution. 

"I don't see it as really having any effect," Herbert said, who added that he's still willing to speak with Leiper about ways the developer-neighbour relationship can be improved.

"Unfortunately, I just don't see this as being a realistic option to pursue."