Alberta condo construction woes flagged 3 years ago

A government committee identified problems with Alberta's residential construction practices and lax inspection regime three years ago, but critics say the committee's recommendations have never been acted upon.

Government offers sympathy but no action on condo construction mess

The City of Leduc evacuated the Bellavera Green Condo Complex one year after residents moved in because the building is no longer safe. (Andrea Huncar/CBC)

A government committee identified problems with Alberta’s residential construction practices and lax inspection regime three years ago, but critics say the committee’s recommendations have never been acted on.

The committee, led by Edmonton Conservative MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, issued a report in December 2008 which found Alberta’s system of construction and inspection "is not performing adequately to protect the home or condominium owner."

Liberal housing critical Hugh Macdonald said, "the government has to quit pretending this is not a problem. Surely they can review Mr. Lukaszuk’s report from 2008 because this has gone on and on."

Liberal housing critic Hugh Macdonald says the government is pretending construction standards aren't a problem in Alberta. (CBC)

"More and more condominiums are being built," Macdonald added. "People are looking at them as an attractive way to enter the home market. But yet we have builders that are knowingly duping these consumers and the government is doing nothing about it."

Lukaszuk’s 2008 report made recommendations to Ray Danyluk, the Municipal Affairs minister at the time. They included making the construction industry accountable, providing protection for consumers and ensuring appropriate inspection and enforcement.

Serious condo-construction problems continue

But serious problems with condos in the province’s booming construction industry continue to surface.

In the last three years alone, hundreds of Albertans have been forced out of their condominium complexes because they were too unsafe to inhabit. Thousands of other Alberta condo owners have had to spent tens of millions of dollars to repair crumbling buildings, many less than a decade old.

Last year, about 300 residents of the Penhorwood complex were ordered to leave in the middle of the night because officials feared the nearly new building would collapse. Last year, they voted to borrow $35 million to rebuild the entire condo project.

Earlier this week, about 150 residents of the Bellavera Green Condos in Leduc were given an eviction order because of serious fire-code issues. Construction worker Brendan London moved in on Tuesday, only to receive an eviction order on Wednesday.

"These are people who have come to this province from all over the country for this ‘Alberta Advantage,' " London said, referring to a slogan coined by the government of former premier Ralph Klein. "And this is how we treat them?"

Offers of sympathy from government

As an assistant deputy minister of Municipal Affairs, Ivan Moore served on the committee that produced the 2008 report. Last year, after a series of stories about expensive repairs to crumbling condominiums, Moore said to CBC News there was nothing his department could do.

"Unfortunately, we don’t have the (legislative) tools yet to provide them with the protections that we are building," Moore said. "And all we can do at this point in time is sympathize with them and let them know that what they’re going through will at least help make things better in the future."

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths. (CBC)

On Thursday, Alberta’s current Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths offered more sympathy, this time to the Leduc condo residents who are facing eviction.

"This is a serious concern and we sympathize fully with the people who are in this situation," Griffiths told reporters.

Promise of new legislation

But Macdonald says sympathy won’t pay the mortgages of those condo owners.

"Sympathy does nothing, absolutely nothing for these people," he said. "When they go to their bank, or their lending institution, sympathy means nothing."

Griffiths said his department is continuing to work "expeditiously" on several initiatives, including a new home warranty program, better training for safety codes officers and increased fines for building-code violations that will help protect future condo buyers.

Macdonald points out that all the initiatives mentioned by Griffiths were in his own department’s 2008 report and he has heard from many unhappy condo owners.

"They are very disappointed that their government is not standing up and protecting them," he said. "This is not a new problem. What happened with that condemned condo in Leduc has been going on for years and the government has failed to protect the interest of homebuyers or consumers in this province."

Griffiths said he hopes to introduce new legislation this fall.