Commission of Inquiry into the Quality of
Condominium Construction in British Columbia
Submitted to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Government of British Columbia
by Dave Barrett, Commissioner
June 1998

Chapter One: The Problem Continued

IV. The Definition of the Problem

"I think it should be called the "rotten-condo problem, not the leaky-condo problem. There is a difference. Wood does not rot because it gets wet. It rots when it stays wet."

H.A. Leach, Engineer

In order to estimate the magnitude of the "leaky condo" problem, a definition must be developed. Throughout its hearings, the Commission was presented with a vast range of problems experienced by owners and renters. The problems included single family homes, whose foundations were sliding; expensive townhouse complexes with water rushing through the walls; concrete high-rise apartment condominiums with cracking foundations; older wood frame conversions, which required extensive renovations; equity co-ops with extensive construction over runs; and many, many wood-frame condominium apartment complexes requiring extensive repairs.

The residential construction industry consists of single family, duplex, townhouse, and multi-family constructions (rental and condominium). During the past fifteen years, the importance of condominium home ownership has grown. Census figures from Statistics Canada (1996) report that there were 157,000 BC households living in condominiums. This represents about 17 percent of all homeowners compared to 8 percent in Ontario. The following graph illustrates the relative importance of condominium construction as compared with other forms of construction between 1983 and 1997. The term "owner" refers to single family, duplex and townhouse, while "renter" refers to rental purpose built units. "Condo" means condominium, however, not all condominiums are owned by the people who live in them.

Graph 2


Graph 2
Source: CMHC

The significant increase in condominium tenure gives the appearance that the problems are condo-related. However, while the problems are most significant in condominium buildings -- four stories or fewer -- the problems are not isolated to these complexes. Rental units, single family construction, and high-rises also have problems.

The Commission recommends that the definition of the problem should not be limited to condominiums, but should be extended to any form of housing, where an absence of quality construction in the building envelope has led to significant repairs.

The Commission notes the work undertaken by the Urban Development Institute (UDI) in coming to grips with a workable definition. Some elements of their definition -- limiting the scope to wood frame, condominium buildings, built between 1987 to 1997, within the coastal climate area of British Columbia -- must be expanded.

In order to understand the Commission's broader definition, it is important to understand what the building envelope is, and what it is intended to do.

"The building envelope is composed of several assemblies, each made up of several materials. The most visible envelope elements are the roof and wall assemblies ... Building science tells us that three conditions must be present simultaneously for a water problem to occur in a wall:

(1) there must be water on the wall,

(2) there must be a hole through which water can enter, and

(3) a driving force must be acting that will move the water.

Building Envelopes and the BC Building Code, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, January 12, 1998

  Recommendation #1: That the definition of "leaky condo" be expanded to include: A leaky building is any residential building within British Columbia, for which construction was completed in 1983 through 1998, and which experienced building envelope failures, requiring repairs in excess of $2,000 per unit, for multi-family construction, and $10,000 for single-family units or duplexes.


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Copyright © 1998: Government of the Province of British Columbia