Calgary·In Depth

Condo owners warn Calgarians to be careful when buying

Calgary's Tracy Hyrhoruk has been fighting for the last eight years to recover the costs associated with her leaky condo.

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

Tracy Hyrhoruk, who now works as a realtor, is warning others to be careful when buying a new condo. She had to pay $75,000 when water leaked into her building. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Like many people, the first home that Tracy Hyrhoruk bought was a condo — a cute townhome in Calgary’s inner city, one of eight units in the complex.

Practically brand new, she bought it before the boom for $160,000.

All was well until one weekend she came home from a camping trip with her boyfriend and stepped into a puddle in her kitchen.

"We figured maybe the dishwasher leaked," says Hryhoruk.

"We started walking through the kitchen and there were about two and a half inches of water. Then I stepped on the carpet, and the carpet was full of water, so put I towels down. Then I walked around the perimeter of the unit and it was everywhere. 

"The water was coming in and we couldn't stop it."

Hyrhoruk and her boyfriend later discovered that the stucco on her condo was so thin it didn't meet the building code. Her walls were porous.

She had to shell out $75,000 to repair it.

One story out of many

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This is the dark side of Calgary and Alberta’s building boom of the last decade: shoddy construction and leaky condos.

Hryhoruk’s story is one of the few that we hear about publically, but that doesn’t mean that leaky condos aren’t a substantial problem.

Architects, engineers, builders and realtors all say that construction standards in this city are not up to par.

Architect Tang Lee specializes in building envelope repair. The building envelope is a term that refers to the skin of the building: the roof, the siding and the windows.

Lee has fixed a lot of condos in Calgary and he compares what's happening here with the leaky condo crisis that happened in B.C. a decade ago.

"We're starting to see more and more of these buildings that are put up in such a way that doesn't really stand the test of time," he said. 

"They are put up very quickly, or they are using inferior materials or [it] doesn't have good quality management or construction in such a way that it fails. 

"It's not going to fail in the first couple years, but it will fail five, 10 years, 15 years down the line."

Common problems include roofs that have not been put on properly, windows that have not been set in properly, stucco that is too thin or decks that slope into the building instead of away.

Once water gets into a building, it gets stuck.

'There are signs'

Since 1990, buildings have had to meet energy efficiency standards. That means they are more tightly sealed than a building put up more than 20 years ago, so they don’t breathe. When water gets in it has nowhere to go, it doesn't take long before there is mould.

It’s difficult to put an exact number on the crisis because no one keeps track of the number of buildings under repair and owners are very reluctant to talk because of fears about their property values. 

Live chat

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

Lee says he’s sees problems like this everywhere.

"It's hard to give a number, but when I go around I can spot buildings which have defects. Just from the street, there are signs. We see clues … it could be water staining, or cracks forming; it could be a musty odour."

There’s not much in the way of consumer protection for condo owners facing big special assessments.

The courts are littered with lawsuits launched by condo boards looking for legal recourse.

Hyrhoruk has been fighting for eight years with no end in sight.

She is now a realtor who is very cautious when it comes to selling her clients condos. 

"Nobody is there to protect anybody," she said. "It's basically buyer beware and there is a list of buildings that my clients know very well that I will not sell to them in Calgary because I have identified them as potentially leaky condos.

"I don't want them to go through what I did. It was a disaster — nightmare."

Not the only one

A leaky condo also created major headaches for Barbara Miller and her husband.

It began with wet walls and carpets and eventually an inspector deemed the unit unlivable and they were out of it for several years.

"We had mold," she said. "We had to move out, and that's when the expenses really began."

They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs.

Miller says damage was so bad the insurance broker wouldn't even come and take a look.

Listen to her full story here.