Water was the invisible force waging war inside the walls, dripping and penetrating deep into the heart of the wooden structure.
It lingered. It had no escape route. Instead it stayed, slowly rotting the building from the inside.
And when the damaging aftermath was discovered, life for residents under the blue construction tarp began.
For Nanaimo’s Dan Peters and Kavita Maharaj, that life started two years ago when the couple learned their building on Uplands Drive needed repairs.
“There was a lot of panic when it was declared a leaky condo – a lot of people wanted to leave,” said Peters.
Leaky condo was a catchphrase making headlines in the 1990s and although the furor of media attention died down, the reality is many homeowners are still dealing with construction deficiencies, and a hefty bill to resolve them.
The problems stemmed from a building technique introduced in the early 1980s and used until the late ’90s. Walls were sealed so tightly air couldn’t circulate and water didn’t evaporate, which caused the building envelope to fail.
Although condos are well-known for these types of failures, it’s a problem that affects numerous types of buildings, including commercial and single family homes, if they are built similarly.
Although the unit owned by Peters and Maharaj was well-protected and had little damage, every resident paid equally for repairs, a total price of $2.1 million split among 40 units.
“It made it a little hard to swallow, when you’re not experiencing an issue,” said Peters. “It was a little tough.”
Residents in the building received interest-free loans through the New Homeowners Protection Act, which took effect in 1998. It was initially estimated $250 million would be distributed, but a decade later it totalled $670 million.
Sam Rainboth, a spokesman for B.C. Housing, said the program wasn’t sustainable and was cancelled in 2009.
“I don’t know how people are going to manage without it,” said Peters.
With the demise of the interest-free loan program, there were few avenues for homeowners. That changed last September when the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a B.C. Supreme Court decision.
The court reversed a 2005 ruling case that denied strata councils the option of pursuing legal action against the insurer of the general contractor. Now, depending on insurance policy’s wording, councils are in a better position to negotiate settlements. As a result, B.C. Housing is pursuing legal action against an insurer for alleged deficiencies in four Metro Vancouver housing developments.
“It’s good news for consumers and contractors,” said Rainboth.
The reconstruction process was hard on residents. For almost two years, they lived with the noise of construction. Residents had little privacy because they had to remove curtains and blinds to avoid damage from them falling due to construction vibrations. Maharaj said it was like workers were right in your home because of the lack of window coverings.
During construction, there were also two fires caused by the work, adding more stress to the residents lives.
However, now that repairs are complete, the couple doesn’t regret their decision to stay and wait out the process. After an initial dip in their housing price after it was declared a leaky condo, it has now increased again. Maharaj said it’s like having a whole new building. The complex was more than 20 years old and now everything is under warranty again.
The entire building exterior was redone, the roof, windows and doors were replaced and the stucco was changed to hardy plank.
Despite the couple’s positive outlook, they said the words ‘leaky condo’ carries a stigma.
It’s a word Darlene King, a realtor with Island West Realty and president of the strata council for the Channel View Complex on Stewart Avenue, said is damaging.
From the outside, her home fits what people have come to identify as a leaky condo – a blue rain screen shrouds the building. But she’s adament her building isn’t a leaky condo.
“This is one of the biggest investments of people’s lives and it gets devastated by an inappropriate label. It has a really negative affect in the real estate world,” said King. “It’s an easy catchphrase.”
Craig Labas, a principal of engineering firm Morrison Hershfield, said the phrase is overused.
“It’s not something that people are comfortable with because it does carry a stigma. The term leaky condo is really offensive to people,” said Labas. “It’s a word professionals in the industry don’t like to use.”
Labas said the Cannel View building does fall within the Homeowners Protection legislation, but added that each building has its own issues and can’t be easily defined by one term.
King said her building’s problems stem from a number of issues that weren’t repaired and were left to linger.
A roof on one of the three buildings was burned in a fire in 2006, while another building had a broken rain gutter and drain pipe and another had a balcony post that wasn’t installed properly, which caused damage.
“It’s not the building cladding that has caused the problem,” said King.
In the early 2000s, the Channel View council received a quote for repairs totalling nearly $6 million. The company found rot in the building damaged by the fire and told residents that almost certainly the other buildings would have it as well.
King said the term leaky condo was used, which caused people to panic.
The council at the time wanted to repair it without further consultation, but many homeowners began to question the bill. King said people questioned why a building damaged by fire would necessarily mean the other buildings had problems as well.
“It’s like someone pointed them to this one area and they used that to say our whole complex was in jeopardy,” said King.
Many owners felt they would lose their homes because the price tag was too high. Residents fought against council and eventually the entire body was replaced.
“You have to beware that companies are telling you you have a leaky condo problem when you don’t,” said King. “There is money to be made in resurfacing.”
Residents took over a year to take their own measurements and found discrepancies in the quoted tender. They sent their building out for tender again and took the lowest bid of $1.7 million.