Not any more

Tories reject new building rules

In Canada on August 15, 2010 at 10:29

EDMONTON – Implementing recommendations from a hard-hitting 2008 provincial government report that called for immediate action to protect homeowners from shoddy building practices would make new homes unaffordable, says Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau.

Goudreau said he wants more information about the problems of sub-standard housing construction in the province before he acts on the recommendations made in the report commissioned by his department.

"I am not really satisfied with the initial recommendations," Goudreau told The Journal this week. "They would have increased the cost of homes quite dramatically."

Implementing recommendations calling for stiffer penalties for building code violations, mandatory home warranty programs, better training of builders and more rigorous oversight by inspectors would push the cost of new homes out of the reach of young new home buyers, he said.

"We can fix the problems overnight, but it will cost you $20,000 more a home," Goudreau said. "Is that the answer? I don’t think so."

While critics have slammed the Stelmach Conservatives for dragging their feet on an issue they have known about since at least 2003, Goudreau said he doesn’t believe the problem of leaky and mouldy homes is that prevalent, given the number of new homes built annually in the province.

"To keep things in perspective, we have thousands and thousands of new homes built and we’ve received only a few dozen … complaints from people who have experienced moisture-related problems with their homes," he said. "We’re talking a very, very small percentage here."

Goudreau insisted the government is taking the issue seriously and said he will take a plan to cabinet for approval this fall.

"We’re very involved with it," he said. "We haven’t shelved it. We haven’t put it aside."

He said he doesn’t plan to introduce a government-operated new home warranty program, but might take steps to make the four existing programs more responsive to consumer concerns.

"Are they responsive to the demands out there? We’re struggling at times to believe they are as responsive as they should be," he said.

But opposition critics, new home buyers and groups that represent condo owners say there’s already been enough study and the time for action is now.

Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald has called for a public inquiry into why the province has been so slow in responding to complaints from homeowners about major construction defects in new homes.

MacDonald said he has unearthed a study undertaken in 2003 by Alberta Government Services that examined complaints about the province’s new home warranty programs and recommended ways to improve the service they provide. The 14-member committee called on the province at that time to review the adequacy and consistency of municipal home inspections.

"It’s further proof they knew something wasn’t right and they didn’t do a damn thing about it," said MacDonald.

The committee, made up of industry and government representatives, couldn’t reach a consensus on whether the province should regulate home warranty programs or make them mandatory.

But citizen member Allan Bleiken expressed a dissenting comment in the committee’s written report, saying he wasn’t satisfied the committee went far enough to address consumer concerns about home quality and the services provided by warranty programs.

"In my view, these problems will persist until the government regulates the industry or finds another way to hold the industry accountable," he stated in the report.

Bleiken told The Journal Alberta’s warranty coverage pales in comparison to programs in other provinces.

"If you look at Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, they all have home warranty regulations which are far superior to what we have in Alberta," he said.

Bleiken, 69, is skeptical of Goudreau’s claim that improving warranty coverage would dramatically increase the cost of new homes.

"Why would it be too expensive in Alberta, but not too expensive in B.C., Quebec or Ontario?" he asked. "I don’t know if you have to regulate the whole industry, but you have to have a response mechanism that deals with the bad builders and unresponsive home warranty companies."

He said the province should appoint an ombudsman to help homebuyers get redress from shoddy builders and unresponsive warranty firms because pursuing the issue in court is cost prohibitive.

Ardrossan homeowner Dave Henderson said he got burned by a builder that did such a shoddy job on his home he may have to demolish some parts of it. He said there’s been no one to turn to for help.

"It has been three years of hell," he said. "I have been to my MLA. I have been to the county that issued the permit. Everywhere you turn, nobody wants to get involved because it’s such a disaster."

The 39-year-old father of three said he has spent $300,000 so far and may have to spend another $200,000 to fix and finish his home.

Home inspectors and engineering firms have provided him detailed reports that show multiple building code violations and unacceptable residential housing construction practices and poor workmanship.

Henderson said he picked a builder who was a member of the Better Business Bureau and checked his references, but still got burned.

He said builders should be required to post bonds to back their work.

Many of the problems have cropped up in new condominiums, where owners have been hit with massive special assessments to repair major flaws in relatively new buildings.

Stephen Cassady, the Canadian Condominium Institute’s southern Alberta president, said some condo owners are being hit with special assessments as high as $100,000 to pay for their share of the repairs.

"To me, it’s really quite criminal," he said. "We’re seeing historically high costs to complete and fix things that should have been built properly and that’s placing a lot of people under a huge financial burden."

Michael Ball, a director with the same organization, urged the government to act on the recommendations to bolster warranty programs and better protect home buyers.

He doubts that such measures will increase the cost of homes.

" It seems to me housing prices are more determined by market than by legislation," he said. "I am not sure how directly it relates to housing cost, but it certainly relates to builders’ profitability."

Ball said hundreds of Albertans are dealing with shoddy construction workmanship in the wake of the recent construction boom.

His engineering consulting firm is evaluating several new condominiums that require major renovation work to repair construction flaws. Just those projects alone affect 500 to 600 individual condo owners and there are about a half-dozen other firms doing similar work in the province, he said.

"Someone needs to take their head out of the sand," he said.

dhenton@thejournal.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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