Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) says Vancouver’s Leaky Condo problems under control

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Ashley Ford

How long does it take to fix a leak — as in leaky condominiums?

Well, over $500,000,000 later in reconstruction loans and tax rebates, and seven years down the road, the “fix” is well and truly on, but still a long way from completion.

Ken Cameron, the CEO and registrar of the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), the Crown corporation formed to deal with the crisis and oversee residential building licensing, is proud of the progress made to repair a sorry and shoddy chapter in B.C. residential construction history.

“This has been a real success story for our society,” he said in an interview. “It’s a story of industry and society taking responsibility for a problem, [which] has enabled people to deal with terrible problems.”

“The problem is under control and we are well under way to solving the existing situation. We have the best construction-defect protection in Canada,” he added.

In raw numbers, 14,484 units or co-op units have been helped by loans and 600 applications for Social Service Tax relief grants have been made, with 589 being approved and only 11 being rejected.

Some $550.7 million in reconstruction loans have been approved and more than $16 million in provincial sales tax rebates have been made.

(The reconstruction loan program provides no-interest loans to owners of leaky condominiums, leaky housing co-operatives and other homes who are not able to finance or pay for repairs related to premature building envelope failures).

Approximately 65,000 units faced leaky or substandard building problems, and HPO says that between 45,000 and 48,000 owners have made contact with it.

The buoyant state of the real-estate market has been of huge help to owners hit with leaky condos.

“The vast majority of affected properties have recovered more than 90 per cent of their original value,” Cameron says.

He is the first to admit there is still a long way to go but says, “No one has had to lose their home because of an inability to pay for repairs.”

Repair costs keep climbing, especially for high-rise concrete buildings. He said the problems in high rises are much more complex and the per-unit costs of restoration and repair are now between $80,000 and $85,000.

The average repair cost of a frame unit is $31,700, up from $21,000 five years ago, he said.

Some strata councils have ignored their problems or did not act on them early enough and thus have made repairs more expensive.

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the 65,000-member Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., agrees with Cameron’s assessment.

“We started at point zero and, as of now, we are 85 per cent of the way there,” he says.

“The leaky-condo problem is still going to go on for another 10 to 15 years and it was a horrible thing.

“But people are being helped to work through it. The warranty and licensing programs have resulted in an overwhelming improvement in developing new building envelope standards and there has been a huge improvement in research and education,” he said.

Despite the added consumer protection, both say consumers must take responsibility and closely examine everything, including the strata council minutes before buying.

Gioventu says the biggest problem now is consumers themselves. Strata councils are either not repairing or not concentrating enough on regular inspections, he says.

“The protection that is there is self-enforcing and the most chronic worry is consumers themselves not taking responsibilities for themselves,” he said.

The crisis has not gone away, says Carmen Maretic, president of the Consumer Advocacy and Support for Homeowners Society.

“We are still being called by people who are either going into bankruptcy or foreclosures,” she said.

Maretic said she had no numbers on how many were facing bankruptcy or foreclosure.

While she agrees there has been some recovery in housing prices, she said the downside is there has been a huge escalation in construction costs.

“The average per-unit repair cost in March 2000 was $20,000. As of March 2006 it had risen to $60,000 per unit,” she says.

Maretic says the HPO’s own numbers clearly show the leaky-condo crisis is not over and there is a clear need for a political response.

“We want government and elected officials to implement proper consumer protection and timely and effective dispute-resolution mechanisms,” she says.

The non-profit housing-advocacy group says “many innocent, hardworking citizens have been abandoned by the current system.”


The Homeowner Protection Office is a provincial Crown corporation that was created by the Homeowner Protection Act.

HPO is responsible for:

residential builder licensing and establishing the framework for and monitoring of a mandatory third-party home warranty insurance;

administering a no-interest repair-loan program and PST Relief Grant for owners of leaky homes;

research and eduction function designed to benefit the residential construction industry and consumers.

– Online contact: www.hpo.bc.ca

© The Vancouver Province 2006

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