Province eyeing changes that could see developers hire their own building inspectors

The City of Toronto is pushing back against a provincial government proposal that could give developers the power to skirt the rules surrounding municipal building inspections.

Certified professionals program would allow architects, engineers to okay building permits

Should developers be allowed to hire their own inspectors? The provincial government is looking at that possibility. (Ed Middleton/CBC )

The City of Toronto is pushing back against a provincial government proposal that could give developers the power to skirt the rules surrounding municipal building inspections.

The Certified Professionals Program would allow architects and engineers to undergo additional training in the work that city inspectors do. Developers could then hire the newly-minted professionals, instead of calling in city inspectors to approve their progress.

"Toronto Building staff do not support the introduction of a program whereby builders would be allowed through legislation to hire designers to assume the plan review and inspection roles and responsibilities on behalf of municipalities," Will Johnston, the city's chief building official, wrote in a report to the planning and housing committee.

"There are a number of concerns with this model, including potential conflicts of interest."

Even if the proposal is eventually approved, it may have a tough time getting architects onboard.

Adam Tracey, manager of policy and government relations for the Ontario Association of Architects, says the association is against the proposal to introduce a Certified Professional designation for architects in Ontario. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The Ontario Association of Architects, which regulates the profession, weighed in last November in a letter to the province.

 "The development industry may have pitched this to government as a cheap and simple way to to get building approvals faster," the letter reads in part.

"As risk is transferred from municipalities to individual practitioners, the profession's liability would increase, and higher insurance costs would directly translate into higher building costs."

Adam Tracey, the association's manager of policy and government relations, warned those extra costs would likely be passed on to the public.

"There will be some kind of cost transfer from municipalities back on to homeowners and business owners," he said. "Somebody has to pay for it. It's not going to be done for free."

Will Johnston, the city's head building official, worries that introducing certified professionals in Toronto could lead to perceptions of conflict of interest, because developers would be allowed to hire their own inspectors. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The proposal is part of larger discussion paper, circulated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing among professionals in the building industry last fall.

The aim of the consultation, according to a statement from the ministry to CBC Toronto, is "modernizing and transforming the delivery of building code services to help speed up the construction of new housing and building projects, and better support Ontario's $38-billion building industry."

Builders have been complaining for years about red tape that's slowing down the building process. They've been asking for a more streamlined system.

As things stand now, every builder — from single-home contractors to the largest developers — must adhere to the Ontario Building Code when erecting a new structure.

Municipalities enforce the code, signing off on each stage of construction, from the original building permit application, through foundation work, framing, plumbing, and other work normally done by tradespeople. Ultimately, after a final inspection, the city issues an occupancy permit.

'Struggling to get permits'

The only permits not covered would be those that affect personal safety, such as electrical inspections, according to Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Home Builders Association, which has also been involved in the consultations.

Under the new model, developers would be allowed to hire their own certified professionals, rather than have city inspectors visit the site, according to Johnston and Vaccaro, who's in favour of the certified-professionals model.

"We are struggling to get permits, we are struggling to get inspections done in a timely way," Vaccaro told CBC Toronto. "And when those delays happen it backs up the entire project. So, now the idea here is to get people in their home sooner and safer."

But Johnston said municipal regulators are essential in ensuring new buildings are properly constructed.

'A robust regulatory system'

"What's important to Toronto Building is that we have a robust regulatory system where the public can have confidence that the buildings that they work and that they live in, that they visit, are safe," he said.

Joe Vaccaro, head of the Ontario Home Builders Association, says the proposed changes could streamline the building process and 'get people into their homes sooner and safer.' (Mike Smee/CBC)

"The best way to achieve that in my view is to have a system where you have independent oversight of the building design and construction process."

The ministry would not agree to an interview with CBC Toronto. But in an email, a spokesperson maintained no decisions on streamlining the system have been made.

"Modernizing and transforming the delivery of Ontario's building code services will take time and this is the beginning of the conversation," Conrad Spezowka wrote. "Consultation feedback is currently being reviewed and no decisions have been made."

Although the province has not provided details of the proposed changes, it has stated that the idea to establish certified professionals in Ontario is based on a British Columbia model. 

But Maura Gatensby, a B.C. architect and certified professional, said only the cities of Surrey and Vancouver have opted to let certified professionals bypass municipal inspections.

The issue is scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the planning and housing committee, as part of a broader discussion on possible changes to the way the Ontario Building Code is administered.