Owners, managers, landlords fiercely oppose 'destructive' building inspections
Calgary's apartment and office tower owners tell Coun. Druh Farrell to 'leave the industry alone'
A Calgary city councillor's request to look at bringing in mandatory structural inspections of the city's older and taller buildings is being met with fierce resistance.
"Leave the industry alone," says Gerry Baxter, the executive director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association.
He says it would be premature to bring in what he calls a cookie-cutter approach to the city's aging mid- and high-rise buildings.
The city's building maintenance bylaw, which calls for mandatory exterior visual assessments of buildings every five years, came into law Jan. 1, 2017.
The visual inspections apply to buildings that are at least 10 years old and at least five storeys tall.
Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes the structurally unsound and vacant Kensington Manor, will ask administration on Monday to study the possibility of bringing in mandatory structural inspections.
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The 150 or so tenants in the six-storey building were given just 15 minutes to gather their things and leave last November because of a "possible imminent building collapse."
Farrell believes it was pure luck that nothing catastrophic happened before the building was evacuated and shored up.
"We got lucky," she said.
What Farrell is pushing for is something building owners and managers refer to as destructive testing because in some cases walls and floors need to be ripped open and footings dug up to be inspected.
Farrell says regular structural inspections are not part of the year-old building maintenance bylaw and should now be considered.
"What we really need is to identify at what age do buildings start deteriorating and we would need third party structural evaluations. That would seem to be common sense to me, but currently we don't do that," said Farrell.
Baxter says his association's board members are strongly opposed to such a move having just recently gone through all of the consultations with the city to come up with the maintenance bylaw.
"I don't think we want to have something that is very costly and very destructive foisted upon an industry that's already working very hard to make sure that their buildings are safe," said Baxter.
The executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Calgary says the requirement would add tremendous costs without any guarantee the buildings would be made safer.
"We call it destructive testing, not because it's a bad thing but because it requires removing all finishing, taking a wall down and doing extensive work so it's again a few steps past what should be the first step and that should be the visual assessment," said Lloyd Suchet.
He says in most cases potential structural problems could be caught during a thorough visual inspection done by qualified professionals.
"Structural testing would not be a first step because it is never a first step in the industry," said Suchet.
Suchet says structural tests and inspections were discussed during the initial consultation for the building maintenance bylaw but were dropped because of the cost, and he says they would have unnecessarily broadened the scope of the bylaw
Baxter agrees with Suchet and says that following consultations on the new bylaw it was agreed that structural testing isn't needed. He describes Farrell's motion as a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to what happened at Kensington Manor.
"Let's give the building maintenance bylaw a chance to do its job and work, and if we discover at some point in time that it's not working or it's not meeting the requirements that we had initially hoped for, then we can look to alter it or make changes. But let's not suddenly decide that we need to do structural testing," said Baxter.
Public safety trumps expensive tests
The former tenants of Kensington Manor are urging Farrell's colleague's on council to support the motion. A spokesperson for the group says structural inspections could prevent a similar situation from happening to other tenants in the city.
Alison McIntosh says public safety should trump the cost of any structural testing, regardless of how intrusive or destructive those tests might be.
McIntosh suggests there were tell-tale signs something was wrong with the building months before the emergency evacuation.
"They were checking balconies multiple times over the course of the year in which I lived there. It seemed like if they knew about these concerns.They didn't consider them serious enough to merit imminent building collapse until it was absolutely too late," said McIntosh.
"We were forced out on minutes' notice. Our livelihoods were put at risk. We were forced into basically homelessness without appropriate compensation and things like that," she said.
The former tenants have also organized a petition calling on the government to review the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure tenants receive better protection when they are forced out of their apartments.
Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean said in a statement to the CBC that there are no plans to review the Residential Tenancies Act. However, her department is "always looking for ways to better protect tenants and landlords and will be meeting with these tenants to hear their concerns," read the statement.
CBC News attempted to reach out to the Ontario-based owner of Kensington Manor but calls and text messages were not answered.
Farrell says the current building maintenance bylaw will result in 500 buildings being subjected to a visual assessment over the next two years. The buildings are at least five storeys tall and 25-years-old.
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.