Calgary·In Depth

5 things condo owners should do before buying

Leaky condos are a problem in Calgary and anyone looking to buy a condo should consider these five things, says engineer Randy Smith.

CBC Calgary takes a week-long look into problems with leaky condos around the city

A Calgary engineer says anyone buying a condo in here should consider five things. (Submitted)

Randy Smith, a partner with Williams Engineering, spends a lot of his time repairing and restoring condominiums in Calgary. 

Many have building envelope failures, meaning water has leaked into the building causing mould, rot or other damage.

Smith says that leaky condos are a massive problem in Calgary and anyone looking to buy a condo should consider these five things.

1) Read the reserve fund study

Reserve Fund Studies are mandatory for all condo corporations.

The purpose is to ensure that the condo board has enough money in reserve to pay for any repairs or replacement of the building and its assets. Smith says the study should be very descriptive.

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"They should describe every component in the building," he said. 

"We see some that are very poor. If it says you have 30-year shingles on your roof and you're 15 years into it, therefore you have to replace your shingles in 15 years. That's garbage, there's no evaluation of the condition of the shingles."

So the more detail the better, says Smith.

2) Read the condo board minutes

Each board is required to make the minutes of the meetings available to all the unit owners in the building.

If you are considering buying a condo unit, you can also access those minutes through a service like Condo Paper.

"If there are any problems with the building," says Smith. "They will be discussed at the board meeting and should be in the minutes."

Live chat

Building science engineer Randy Smith answers your leaky condo questions Sept. 12 at noon.

3) Check if the building was built with post tension cables

This was a popular building method in Calgary in the 1970s and 1980s and is occasionally used today.

Steel cables are run through the concrete in order to increase the weight bearing ability of the concrete and to minimize cracking.

The problem with post tension is that they are very expensive to repair if something goes wrong.

4) Condo fees

"Cheaper is not better in the case of monthly condo fees. Condo fees are important," says Smith.

"They are what the condo board needs to replace all the bits and pieces. When people say ‘Oh, it's a great location and the condo fees are so low,’ that's usually a flag for us. Why are they low, are they not putting enough money away?"

5) Who built it?

It almost goes without saying that there’s a pretty variation in the quality of the builders in Calgary.

Smith says to go online and check out if the people have been sued, or find out who the architect is and see if you can find the drawings.