The collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Florida in June raised questions about the likelihood of a similar tragedy in Canada. This is a complex question that touches on many issues: supervision of the construction department, aggression against developers, shortcuts for contractors and governance of condominiums.
The exact cause of the Surfside collapse will be the subject of a detailed forensic analysis over several years, a task made difficult by the shattered nature of the structural remains and the challenges of reconstructing the moment of physical failure.
However, the problems probably started years ago. The New York Times reports that developers of the Surfside Project aggressively pursued modifications to the building after construction began.
Specifically, they wanted to add an additional floor to each of the two condominium towers. Despite objections from city officials over structural issues and the violation of height restrictions, “the records show that in the face of an intense campaign that saw lawyers for the developers threaten legal action and argue with officials late in the year. overnight, the opposition pulled back – and the developers got their way. “
The Times also points out that while “there is no indication that the catastrophic Champlain Towers South building collapse in June was related to the studded penthouse,” this only adds to suspicion about construction shortcuts, such as less of rebar used in load-bearing columns than was originally specified by engineers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that engineers also found that no waterproofing had been installed to protect the rebar and concrete that supported the structure.
However, actions could have been taken several years earlier to correct any deterioration observed in the building.
In 2018, the Surfside Condominium Board of Directors received an engineering report that noted “major structural damage” in areas currently under forensic investigation. Sharing costs among individual owners to repair or mitigate reported damage would have been costly, ranging from $ 80,000 to $ 200,000 each depending on the size of the unit.
The board hesitated, perhaps because of costs or perhaps because the report didn’t suggest any imminent structural collapse.
This series of events and decisions highlights the crucial differences between jurisdictions like Ontario and Florida when it comes to condominium governance, says David Taub of the law firm Robins Appleby LLP.
Taub writes that the 2018 Surfside Report was produced because of Miami-Dade County’s requirements for building inspections when buildings reach 40 years of age. It’s very different from the situation in Ontario, he says.
“Here, the condominiums must constitute and maintain a reserve fund, which should only be used for the purposes of major repairs and replacement of the common portions and property of the condominium. “
This reserve fund must be established during the first year of registration of the condominium and its size determined by further inspection.
“Thereafter, the reserve fund study is to be updated every three years, giving homeowners a moving picture of the state of repairs and the rate at which building systems are deteriorating.”
In other words, there would have been several additional inspections of a 40-year-old Ontario condominium – at least every three years – compared to the only inspection required at Miami-Dade. In addition, the condominium reserve fund would have benefited from injections of funding and ongoing spending based on the recommendations of these regular reports.
The result would therefore be surprisingly different. Structural issues would be identified much sooner, repairs might be smaller, and funding would be available to avoid any sudden, massive call for money as happened in Florida.
As Taub writes, “Ontario is forcing condominiums to invest in security measures that may not always be necessary. Safety comes at a price, ”says Taub.
On the flip side, Florida’s 40-year inspection regime has allowed structural problems to escalate, with the cost of repairs increasing at the same time. Many homeowners would have been forced into a burning sale situation, causing them to lose most of the equity in their condominium.
Instead, repairs were not undertaken and the building collapsed. Ultimately, the courts will decide whether the owners will receive any compensation.
John Bleasby is a freelance writer based in Coldwater, Ontario. Send your comments and ideas for the Legal Notes section to [email protected]