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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Leaky condos part III – a problem risen from the dead

I’ve told you about our experience with leaky condos.  And how the leaky condo catastrophe came about.  But the question now is “Why is this a problem NOW?”

LeakyCondo2

It’s ba-ack!

Because until now, strata councils who run condominium buildings could avoid submitting depreciation reports.  As this story in the Vancouver Sun succinctly puts it:

Lax maintenance has been a long-standing issue for stratas, according to Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Homeowners Association of B.C., “hence the evolution of the introduction of depreciation reports.”

The province made a depreciation report a requirement of the Strata Property Act in 2011. It contains a detailed assessment of a condo building’s condition, and a schedule for when major components, including its exterior, would need repair.

“Depreciation reports are forcing strata corporations to acknowledge what they have, and forcing them into planning (for repairs),” Gioventu said in an interview.

The requirement was enacted in 2011, but wasn’t put in force until last December to give B.C.’s 30,000 strata corporations time to commission the reports.

When we left our condominium last year the strata council was preparing to create a depreciation report.  It would cost time and trouble, and of course, money, but they knew what the report would say — that the building was well-maintained and had undergone rain screening in 2000, that it had a new roof and would last for many years.

Many, many condo buildings were updated and repaired and will, with proper maintenance, provide safe and comfortable housing for decades to come. And depreciation reports are necessary for all condo buildings, regardless of whether they have had leaks or were repaired and kept up.  It provides a good background on the building, and if you are hoping to sell your condo it is a great asset to show the prospective buyers and their mortgage provider.

According to this story from Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun,

By Dec. 14, 2013, strata corporations must have 30-year depreciation plans that indicate when major infrastructure will need to be replaced, what the maintenance schedules are and the expected cost of each item. The plans must be updated every three years so that owners and potential buyers will have a realistic glimpse of what lies ahead.

So it appears that the problem is solved.  Those condo building who have not kept up their regular (or emergency) repairs will quickly fix everything, and the home owners and future buyers will be sure that the building is sound.

Nope.  Not quite that easy.  There are several reasons why this is a crisis for some condominium owners.

1. Playing by the old rules

When you live in a strata building you pay maintenance fees every month.  These pay for the general upkeep of the building, the shared costs for the gardening, garbage, etc.  But a portion of those fees go into a contingency fund — money set aside for big expenses.  Repairing the garage.  Replacing the boiler.  Stuff that comes up once in a while that you really can’t budget for.  But until 2009 there was a restriction on how large a contingency fund could be.  So even if you convinced the owners to pay an extra, say, $300 a month in maintenance fees to pay for a new roof that would be needed in 20 years (and good luck with that), you simply weren’t allowed to.  So to pay for these really big repairs you need a special assessment.

2. The 3/4 rule

You need three-quarters of the owners of the suites in any strata corporation to agree to any special assessments.  In our old strata building, these special assessments passed rather easily.  A new roof costs this much.  Your share is this much.  Vote.  And we all agreed that we wanted the building to be maintained and we voted yes.  Then we coughed up our share.  I thought that was the way all stratas were run.  But it’s not.  There were 14 suites in our building.  If just four owners voted against the assessment we would not have gotten a new roof.  We were lucky that everyone was on the same side in this issue.  That there were no internal feuds that played out, that people had enough money to contribute.

But if you lived in a strata where people did not want to fix the whole building, where they tried to patch up little problems that turned into big problems, or where they just could not afford to pay those large assessments, your day of reckoning is at hand.

3. The money

At one time, leaky condo strata corporations could avail themselves of an interest-free loan run through the B.C. Homeowner Protection Office.  That program ended in 2009 after 11 years.  So if your problems didn’t show up until after then, or you couldn’t convince your neighbours that they needed to fix the entire building, you will have to find another way to finance that big, big repair bill.  Now.  Before the depreciation report.

4. The market

The insane Vancouver housing market applies to all condo owners — not just those in Coal Harbour luxury penthouses.  For what it costs to move into a two-bedroom 25-year-old condo in the area you could have a very nice detached home in Edmonton or Saskatoon.  So that often means people in those 25-year-old condos are already paying hefty mortgage payments, plus their monthly maintenance payments.  Some people are on fixed incomes, retired or on disability.   They simply cannot afford the extra costs those repairs would require.   And all these people will be quite hooped, one way or another.

They have to repair their homes, but can’t afford to repair their homes, but can’t sell their un-repaired homes and move anywhere else.

So there you have it.  A problem we thought had just gone away was hiding, like that nasty piece of mould on the inside of a wall, just waiting to spread and eat up your life savings.

 

 

Leaky condos part II – why oh why?

In my previous post, I quoted a Vancouver Sun article on leaky condos.  Years after we thought the problem was gone, it’s back.  Like a bad rash, or in this case, a pernicious mould.

Why are so many Vancouver condos prone to leaking?

Well, into the WayBack machine, to see what life was like in Vancouver in the late 80s.

Expo 86 had really moved the city along.  The nightlife was bouncy, with live-music venues downtown and in Gastown.  New bylaws were made to loosen up the liquor laws — we were a fun town!  And the Vancouver Canucks were pinning their hopes on young Jim Benning.

Jim_Benning

Deja vu

 

All this activity meant more people were moving to the city, and that put pressure on current housing stock.  So in the years 1982 through the early 1990’s, the city encouraged a new-fangled type of housing that Vancouver hadn’t seen before — condos.

Vancouver had apartments since the beginning, but they were usually built specifically for rental.  Apartment ownership in a strata corporation was a new thing.  At first it meant existing buildings “going condo” – selling their suites to the tenants.  In those halcyon days you could purchase a condo for about $40K — a nice one, too.  Then zoning changes meant that residential homes in neighbourhoods like Kitsilano and around City Hall could be replaced by condominiums.

So we had a situation where there was a high demand for this housing — plus land to build it on.  What could possibly go wrong?

1. The climate — damp – ish

Vancouver gets 1153.1 mm of rain per year, about double that of that notoriously rainy city, London. Nearly twice as much as San Francisco, California.  I put this at the top of the list because it’s really something that should determine everything else.  But it seems to have been ignored by everyone all through the process of building these leaky condos.

2. Regulations – no good deed goes unpunished

The Canadian Building Code altered their rules to increase the sealing of exterior walls.  That meant that in the dry cold of a Saskatchewan winter, the sealed walls would keep the cold out and the warm in.  Great in Saskatchewan — but the rule meant that whatever entered the exterior — heat or moisture — would be trapped inside.

The City of Vancouver changed their regulations to include eaves and overhangs in the allowable floor space.  There was therefore a penalty to having a wide roof overhang.  Much better to build right to the outside of the allowable limit, with no overhang at all! Also the floor space was measured from the outside of the exterior wall — not the inside.  So thinner walls were encouraged.

To reiterate:  the buildings would have to be air-tight, but not protected from any precipitation.

3. Design — let’s borrow from the neighbours

Vancouver needed a new type of building — a three or four storey apartment building that would incorporate modern building techniques and style.  We hadn’t seen this style of building in the area — but California had!

CaliforniaCondo

Arched windows!  Lots of parapets, changing roof lines, open walkways!  Very little roof overhang.  And all wrapped up in stucco.  It was better than modern — it was Post Modern!

We liked it!  We built it!  We bought it!

A design that was originally fashioned for a place with half our annual rainfall.

4. Construction — new materials because — progress

Lots of Vancouver buildings are covered in stucco.  Good old-fashioned cement stucco.  But now there was something new and improved — exterior insulation finishing system (or EIFS).  It seals the exterior, just like the Canadian Building Code requires.  And you can put it smack against the sheathing, for which they used that new stuff, fibreboard.   Putting the EIFS right on the fibreboard reduced the thickness of the walls, which meant that the City of Vancouver measurements from the outside of the exterior walls would not reduce the size of the floor space within the suites.

5. Builders – the more the merrier

The demand for housing was there.  The materials were there.  The design was there.  All you needed was someone to put it together.  And companies sprung up like, well, mushrooms.  Reputable builders were booked up months or even years in advance.  So less-than-reputable builders stepped into the breech.  Also, builders and developers would form a new company for each project.  When the project was finished, the company would just dissolve.  Into thin air. Inspectors were overworked and often not familiar with the new designs and the new building materials.

6. Owners — what’s that smell?

New condominiums sold just as they were supposed to — like deceptively constructed hotcakes.  They were lovely to look at.  And for some time they were fine.  It takes a few years for those interesting roof lines and arched windows to let water through that impervious exterior into the fibreboard that soaks it up. It takes a bit longer for those sodden boards to start moulding and rotting.  Then problems apppear.

Then it took a few years for strata boards to realize that the leak in 4A and the saggy balcony on 2C were related.  The building was disintegrating from the outside in.  And there was only one answer — ripping off the entire exterior and replacing it with rain screening. And that took money.  Money from the owners.

The company that had constructed it didn’t exist any more.  The New Home Warranty only covered buildings constructed after 1999.

Some strata boards faced the problem head on.  Like the board in our old building they rain screened their homes, absorbed the cost, and kept their places from deteriorating. They were the smart ones.

Many of the buildings ones that did not rain screen around 2000 did it in the subsequent years, and they had to pay much higher costs because construction costs have shot up in the past decade.

But there were others….who have not fared so well.  And they may be about to bid farewell to their life’s savings.

More on that in Part III

 

Vancouver’s leaky condos — as if we don’t have enough problems

You might think that because I am tucked up snug in my beautifully built laneway house that I no longer take note of problems other people have with their housing.

In fact, I think I’m even more interested in Vancouver housing, its affordability and its quality.  I have a long history of living in the area, in everything from basement suites to west-side detached homes, and I like to keep my oar in the water, so to speak.

And speaking of water, a headline in the Vancouver Sun caught my attention this morning:

Leaky condo crisis rears its head again in B.C

And it brought back such memories.

When DH and I first bought the condo where we lived for 13 years, we got it at a drastically reduced price.  It was a bargain because the building was about to undergo rain screening.  There was a reluctance on the part of potential buyers to move into a place that would be swathed in tarps and green mesh for the next six months while the exterior was ripped off and replaced.

LeakyCondo

Cristo would be proud! But we weren’t.

But we were happy to seize this deal because it would allow us to get into a great neighbourhood for a terrific price, and because I had just gone through the same procedure when the co-op where I was living was rain screened.  Ugly but temporary. And we didn’t have to pay for the rain screening at the new place because the assessment to pay for it had already been accepted by the condo board before the condo was put up for sale, so the previous owner had to pay for it.  That rule was to prevent people from getting a hefty assessment then ducking out and passing it on to unsuspecting buyers.

But it didn’t prevent some people ducking out before the assessment was made. We had already put in an offer to another condo conditional to our reading the minutes of the condo association meetings.  It was a really beautiful place, wood floors throughout, sun-drenched rooms, and an interesting layout.  But we had withdrawn the offer when those minutes revealed that the building was basically a sieve, and was either going to be undergoing expensive and extensive rain screening or would fall down in a few short years, a mouldy mess. It’s just a suspicion, but I felt that the owners had agreed NOT to have a proper inspection which would lead to an assessment until they had a chance to sell their places — passing on the problem to the poor saps who bought.  Rats leaving a rotting ship, so to speak.

The condo board at our building was very pro-active.  Regular maintenance was done.  And the building and the condos within kept their comfort and their value.  I have no doubt that I will be able to point out that building in the coming decades as the place where Nana and G-Pop lived when we were first married, and it will still look great.  But we paid the price — literally.  Our condo fees were high for such a small building, one of the determining factors in our deciding to move to the laneway.

Many buildings put up during the same period did not opt for rain screening.  These were often larger ones where the condo board was not made up of a few stalwarts but instead was full of people averse to spending money on maintenance. Some years ago I helped a young friend stage his condo for resale.  He had volunteered for the board, and found that he could not persuade them to raise the maintenance fees to pay for future upkeep — or even for what he felt were necessary repairs.  The rest of the board much preferred to keep the fees low, not do the work, and….rely on divine intervention.  Or resale before the mould hit the fan.  He decided to get out while the building was still in good enough shape.  But the signs were already there that there would be problems, and not too far off.

So now the chickens have come home to roost — and found it’s falling apart.

Why now? What’s happened to bring this problem to the forefront again?

And why are Vancouver condos so prone to leaks?

Stay tuned for part II.

What’s keeping in the kitchen?

Does anyone else wonder where the money goes for their food?

Yum!

Yum!

We hardly ever eat out.  We love to eat — and cook — and we make our own dinners almost every night (we went out twice in the past month — one anniversary and one reunion dinner with family).  We don’t order out.  We don’t bring home take-out.  So where does the money go?  I wonder……not worry……just wonder.

So when I saw a post on Houzz about 6 Tips From a Nearly Zero Waste Home. I was on it like a shot.  Let’s stop the waste!  Rule #1:

Then I heard that needle across the record noise.

You see my problem?  We don’t eat chips (just don’t care for them).  We don’t use K-Cups (it makes us anxious that we have any waste from our coffee making — even compostable  filters and grounds). No tetra paks except for some stock now and again.  We actually make our own cereal mixes.  Few crackers.  We’re exterior-walls-of-the-super-market shoppers.  PLUS!  No room for bringing home and storing huge packs of ANYTHING!  Costco is not on our list of favourite stores. We just can’t stock up for the zombie apocalypse.

What else can we do to minimize our food bill?  Reduce waste.  Over to Life Edited for tips on creating a smaller footprint in the kitchen.

Rule #1:

  1. Buy only what you need. This is a pretty obvious one, but try to buy the food and the quantities you know you’ll consume from one shopping trip to another. It’s okay to have an empty fridge before you go shopping. If feasible in your area, make more frequent, smaller shopping trips.

That’s a bit more like it.  We live up the hill from a Superstore.  DH likes to take a nice walk every day.  It’s a match (of purposes) made in heaven.  Following the rest of the rules, we compost — Vancouver has a great composting program.  We don’t hoard food until it’s spoiled — our tiny fridge and freezer means we’re faced with our leftovers whenever we dip in for a cold one or an ice cube.  We use up our leftovers.  What to do to reduce our food bill?

**sigh**

One place I would really like to reduce our waste is with food storage.  I rely on plastic wrap.  I use it to keep my lunch from drying out, I wrap my cut onions in it, and put over dishes of leftovers.

Can someone please invent a biodegradable plastic wrap?

Thanks!

Renting trouble

Last week I attended a panel discussion on housing affordability here in Vancouver.  It’s a big complex problem, with lots of different solutions.

Jim O’Dea talked about social housing.

Yuri Artibise talked about coop housing.

And Lyndsey Poaps talked about the problems of finding rental housing in a city with a vacancy rate of about 1%.

Because the people who are having problems finding housing are not just those at the bottom (and the edges) of the economic strata — they are middle class people, too.

In this article in the Vancouver Courier about the panel, Lyndsey Poaps is quoted as saying

“If we want to change the culture so that this becomes a city where people have expectations that they’ll rent for life — bring it on,” said panelist Lyndsay Poaps, a former park board commissioner who rents part of a duplex with her family on the East Side. “But the gap between that culture and our reality is like the Grand Canyon.” 

Over and over, when talking about rentals in Vancouver, you bump up against that cultural problem — the concept that people in Metro Vancouver don’t rent their homes.  They buy.  The idea that you’ll rent one home for twenty years or more — that’s European!  Back in Montreal you’ll find that — but not here!  Vancouver isn’t a city of renters.

Except it is.

I’m not just talking about the fact that every house on our street has some form of rental housing — whether it’s a laneway, a basement suite, or a house subdivided into two or more suites.  Nope. That’s just anecdote.

Vancouver is a city of renters.

Let’s look at the percentage of people renting in the Metro Vancouver area:

RentalsVancouver

It’s not just in the west end of the city, either, where you find a high percentage of renters.  Throughout the central area (including Kitsilano and Shaughnessy) nearly 70% of the housing is rental.  (Thanks, CMHC for the info.)

How does that compare to Montreal? You know, where “everybody” rents rather than buys?

RentalsMontreal

Sure, in the inner city it’s higher — but not much — but in the central area it’s less.

In central London, England, the rental rate is about 73%.  High, as was expected, but about that of Vancouver.  Even in Vienna, the city of government-owned and subsidized housing rental, the rental rate is about 75%.

So the question is not “Will Vancouver be a city of renters?”.  The question is “How can we best serve the high proportion of people in Vancouver who rent their homes?”.

Let’s just think about how Vienna has handled their rental housing.  As Harvard professor Eva Blau puts it, in the 1920s the city decided to really get involved in the rental situation in their city

There was also an economic reason to push for the public housing expansion. By subsidizing housing costs, rent would be kept low. That, in turn, meant wages could be kept low too — without negatively impacting living standards. Low wages allowed Vienna’s industrial sector to be more competitive internationally. There was a political aspect to the effort as well: The new government expected improved living conditions would engender loyalty from citizens. The push for housing was so expansive that today, nearly 100,000 of the city’s 220,000 city-owned apartment units were built in the 1920s and 1930s.

The idea that everyday citizens should have access to not just affordable apartments but also attractive ones — and that it’s the city’s responsibility to provide them — continues to this day. There’s a mindset that housing is a way to link residents to their communities and the larger city through design. “It was never just about housing,” Blau says. “It was always about the city. It was about not just providing private living space but also public living space to people for whom they were also providing housing.”

We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.  It’s time for Civic, Provincial, and Federal governments to get together and work out how people will have access to safe, reliable rental housing in this city.

Because right now we’re just renting trouble.

Concord Pacific coughs up

I went to a very informative meeting on Affordable Housing put on by Vision the other day — and you can expect a post on that soon.

But first…this story from Metro News says mega-developer Concord Pacific looks like it “might” make good its promise to build a park in False Creek.  They promised to in 1990, but this time it looks like it may go ahead.  

“This appears to lift the last stage of the process before a direct effort to build that park,” Coun. Geoff Meggs said, advocating the city move forward with the application.

The parkland has been tied up in legal agreements between developer Concord Pacific, the city and the province. It cannot be converted into a park until Concord develops the final package of its Expo lands, although an application has yet to be made for that “trigger” site.

Obviously, the park is still years away, but in the interim Concord will contribute $500,000 to an interim seawall, $808,850 to improvements under the Cambie Bridge north of Pacific Boulevard and $4.2 million to an enhanced paddling centre, according to the city.(emphasis mine)

The Dragon Boat Festival people have been waiting for a permanent home for years.  The Festival brings in a lot of money to the city in paddlers and partiers every year, so this could definitely be good news for them.

Also (drum roll, please)

It will also transfer a property worth $11.6 million in the Downtown Eastside to the city so the city can build affordable and social housing.

Whoa!  That is good news.  I will be following this story for sure.  Fingers crossed for increased social housing in that area.

Yards of fun for everyone!

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!  We are preparing for a family barbecue here at the “compound” later today.

Yesterday DH set up his new barbecue, connected directly to the natural gas line here at the laneway.  He tried it out on a couple of wonderful rib eye steaks — it works great!  This afternoon he will be creating his patented hamburgers with fixings — I won’t lift a finger as it is, after all, Mother’s Day — and the family will gather to enjoy.

DH also got out the brand new push mower and cut the grass in the back yard.  I then raked it.  It’s nice to have the push mower, DH enjoys the work out, and listening now to the annoying buzz of a neighbour’s power mower grinding through the window I appreciate the swoosh of the pusher mower even more.

I really enjoyed raking the back yard.  It’s a very small space, and took less than half an hour.  When I was a kid my day was made when my Dad got a power mower with a grass-catcher and my raking chore was made obsolete.  Funny how now it seems like fun and good exercise.

The yard is coming together nicely.  It has a slope, of course, the lot slopes so much that you can’t make a level space without creating boggy drainage problems.  But the sod has taken well and we will be able to set up lawn chairs and blankets and enjoy our dinner.

One feature I would like to see — if we only had the space — is a fire pit.  It would be like having an outdoor fireplace, a space where we could gather in the evening to watch the flames and make s’mores.

Fire pits can be big and fancy in the middle of a special patio.

Traditional Exterior by Greenville Design-Build Firms Resort Custom Homes
Professionally built by masons or landscapers
Contemporary Patio by San Luis Obispo Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture
or put together as a DIY project.

 

Contemporary Landscape by Madison Media & Bloggers Erin Lang Norris
You can improvise with a galvanized tub,
FirePit
With some mad metal-working skillz you could make one out of a old washing machine:
FirePit2
You could make one out of concrete (all by yourself!):
FirePit3
Or even use an existing planter or container:

This one has me intrigued because we already have lots of river rock on the property and we could put it together when we need it and take it apart in the fall — or anytime we didn’t want it around.

 

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