THE RENEWAL OF TRUST IN
RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION
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 Two: The Framework of
Residential Construction
Continued

III. Municipal Approval and Inspection Process

The municipalities' planning departments review building plans as submitted by the developer (with or without a design professional, depending upon the applicable section of the building code). In addition, municipal planning departments often require that the design conform to a community plan.

Design guidelines are often a function of the overall aesthetic image desired by planners. It was noted that part of the problems relating to water ingress could be the desire in municipal planning departments for attractive, rather than functional, building designs. One presenter to the commission explained that when they wanted to repair their building and reconstruct the outer walls using siding rather the stucco, the municipality would not allow this for aesthetic reasons. Functional building envelopes can be designed, regardless of the external image desired by a municipality, although a more creative and cooperative approach may be necessary between the development industry and municipal officials to accommodate aesthetics and sound building science. Building economics and building science can be enhanced through zoning changes and changes in approach taken by planning departments, and these should be pursued, with due care and attention to the other planning requirements of municipalities.

Throughout the construction phase, the municipal inspector visits the site, on average, five times, and spends approximately 3-5 days. This can be true for a building that takes a year to complete. The number and nature of building inspections will vary among municipalities, based on the direction provided by City Councils and the complexity of the project. However, in general, most municipalities carry out, some or all, of the following field inspections:

It is apparent from the numerous statements and comments made to the Commission by frustrated and angry condo owners, that the role of local government, with respect to building inspection and plan checking, is widely misunderstood. To a large degree, this has been the fault of municipalities who have not been forthcoming in communicating to the homeowners their exact functions and responsibilities.

"When I went to City Hall with my new occupancy permit, I asked, doesn't this mean that my building is fit to be occupied. They told me no. I told them its full of holes. They said we don't inspect for holes. Well, that was news to me. They asked me where my condo was. I (told them). They said, why did you buy one there, they all leak. Why didn't you tell me that, why didn't you stamp it on my occupancy permit. Oh we can't do that."

James Balderson, Condo Owner

  Recommendation #17. That municipalities should be explicit and give a written statement to all homeowners who inquire, to ensure their exact function and responsibilities of their building officials are understood.

"Many people assume that it is government's role to ensure that houses and buildings are constructed in conformity with building codes. They believe that an inspector checks and approves all design and construction details, including the quality of work, to guarantee the fitness of the new home. This is not the case, and placing complete faith in the system of building codes and inspections to protect you is unwise for several reasons.

The Building Code is intended primarily to ensure that health and safety standards for building are met, not to guarantee overall construction quality ... Local governments enforce the standard established in the Building Code ... it is unreasonable to assume (given the complexity of a modern building and the volume of new construction in some areas) that an inspector can ensure the quality of every aspect of every structure."

Buying a New Home: A Consumer Protection Guide,
Ministry of Municipal Affairs 1997

If it is not the municipality's role to ensure the quality of construction, then whose is it, and what is the responsibility of the municipality's inspection department? The ultimate responsibility for the quality of construction must rest with the developer/builder. The developer can then contract that responsibility to the professional architect or engineer.

"The building inspection function has become an audit function in the sense that staff rely on a sample of events at prescribed stages in the construction process to indicate whether there is compliance with the requirements of the Building Code.

Richmond City Council

It should be noted, however, that regardless of what the role of municipalities has become, there has been an expectation on the part of the consumer and the development industry that code compliance was being enforced by municipal inspectors. Municipal inspectors were being regarded as the interpreters of the code.

The Commission heard testimony that suggested code violations were often undetected by inspectors. In some instances a "cat and mouse game" was identified. Work would be undertaken, such as insulation placed in walls, only to be dismantled and moved to another site after the inspection had been passed. A cost-effective way around this fraudulent practice is to establish industry regulations, including an opportunity for people to alert the proper authorities when building practices, on-site, affect their ability to do a quality job.

It is the provincial government's role to establish codes and standards, while it is the developer's role to ensure that construction complies with standards. The registered professional (architect or engineer) has the responsibility of designing the building and ensuring field reviews are undertaken during construction. The role of the building official is to monitor the process.

Because of both a perceived and a real obligation on behalf of municipalities to carry out the enforcement of the Building Code, there are a significant number of litigation claims pending, naming the municipality as a defendant. Currently, municipalities are liable on a "joint and several" basis, for inspection activity that has not been properly carried out. This means that, in the absence of a developer (who may be protected by a numbered company, or who has gone bankrupt) and/or an architect or engineer with deep pockets, a municipality could be held financially responsible for all the costs related to a successful judgment. The City of Vancouver Charter was amended in 1995, by the Legislature, to eliminate all liability for inadequate inspection.

The Commission finds that the joint and several responsibility for municipalities is onerous. It also finds the discrepancy in treatment among municipalities unacceptable.

  Recommendation #18: That the Municipal Act be modified to remove the joint and several liability of a municipality while retaining proportionate liability.

  Recommendation #19: That the Vancouver Charter be amended to be compatible with the proportionate liability held by other municipalities.

The Commission acknowledges that this recommendation will significantly reduce municipal litigation costs and the cost of municipal liability insurance, and would recommend that this cost saving be passed onto the developer in the form of lower permit fees or an identifiable increase in the quality of inspection services.

The Commission does not recommend the inclusion of an additional inspection for the building envelope, as there are currently three permits that deal with issues related to this area. Inspectors need to be fully educated and versed in this area, and municipalities need to review the desirability of reorganizing their existing inspections to reflect a building envelope approach.

  Recommendation #20: That municipal councils review their building permit process with a view to enhancing the inspection of work, related to an effective building envelope, and that inspectors become more conversant with the role and effectiveness of building science issues related to the building envelope. The Union of BC Municipalities and the Homeowners Protection Office to provide directives in this regard.

  Recommendation #21: That municipalities waive building and permit fees on repairs related to building envelope.

 

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Copyright © 1998: Government of the Province of British Columbia