Tough new safety rules designed to prevent future fatalities from crumbling buildings and garages, will be enforced across the province by 44 inspectors, the Régie du bâtiment du Québec said.
The Régie says the number, which works out to about one inspector for every 29 municipalities in Quebec, is adequate to enforce the sweeping new rules that oblige thousands of owners of buildings that are five storeys and higher to respect tougher fire safety standards and conduct façade inspections once every five years.
Effective this past March, the new building chapter of the Quebec safety code applies only to properties under the Régie’s jurisdiction – including rental and condo buildings – but won’t affect industrial buildings or Quebec’s estimated 1.7 million privately owned, single-family homes.
The rules order property owners to regularly maintain their building façades and multi-storey garages following several fatalities linked to crumbling infrastructure in Greater Montreal – including the death of 33-year old Léa Guilbeault, who was killed by a falling slab while dining with her husband at a downtown sushi bar in 2009. All owners will have to keep registries of their inspections and maintenance plans.
“We must remember that the code puts the responsibility on the owners,” said Liliane Gras, a director in the building division of the Régie du Bâtiment.
“This number (44) is judged to be adequate by the Régie. The Régie will intervene if it deems that the code isn’t being respected.”
The long-awaited changes to the safety code, embraced as a necessity in a province that’s generated headlines for collapsing infrastructure, should affect about 3,650 buildings with five storeys or more across the province, in addition to 930 multi-level garages. About 25,000 other buildings, including hotels, larger motels and seniors’ residences, will have to meet tougher fire safety regulations.
“The first objective of this law is to ensure the security of people who use public buildings,” said Stéphane Labrie, the Régie’s recently appointed president and former Parti Québécois candidate during last year’s elections for the riding of Lévis. “The owner of the building now has every interest to maintain his building in a good state. What the ‘building chapter of the safety code’ is doing today is spelling out how an owner must respect his obligations, concerning periodic inspections.”
While there is no debate over the need for stricter building maintenance guidelines in Quebec, questions are already being raised over how the new rules will be enforced by such a small number of Régie inspectors and whether the new requirements will lead to an explosion in costs – especially for co-owners in condo buildings.
During a recent conference on the effect of the changes on condo buildings, several owners questioned whether the rules would lead to inflated fees charged by architects and engineers – the only professionals permitted by the Régie to carry out the inspections.
“Will there be an artificial inflation of prices because of these mandatory inspections?” asked Yves Joli-Coeur, author of the book Les Tra-vaux en condo: Tout ce qu’il faut savoir, and a Montreal attorney specializing in condo law.
“When there are too many people who demand the same service at the same time, the prices explode. We’ve seen this in the past.”
Joli-Coeur, along with condo property managers contacted by The Gazette, urged volunteer-run condo syndicates to increase their reserve funds now to cover both the cost of the inspections and needed repair work. Owners must prepare themselves for the possibility of large special assessments.
“They (condo owners) are less aware of it (the changes) and they are less accustomed to investing in big repair work,” he said.
“There are a lot of buildings that are 40 and 50 years old.”
In an interview with The Gazette, Labrie said he doesn’t expect a rapid hike in professional fees and said the Régie is giving owners adequate time to complete the first inspection – the exact duration depends on the age of the building – so they can spread out the cost over a few years.
“Once again, there are a certain number of buildings and structures that will need follow up and inspection, but we are not expecting an explosion in costs,” he said.
“It’s in the owners’ interest for the building to respect norms and be in good shape.”
Régie inspectors will be able to consult the registries kept by building owners and give out fines, for example, in cases where the rules aren’t followed, Labrie said.
“Fines are expected and we have special powers if buildings are deemed insecure,” he said.
What Labrie would like to see is a decision by all Quebec municipalities to adopt the new safety regulations and apply them to the buildings they oversee, like single family homes. Each city would have leeway in how they would apply standards found in the code to their own buildings. Currently, each city sets its own rules for fire safety, creating disparities in safety rules from town to town.
Adopting the safety rules could lessen those disparities, Labrie said.
“What’s important is to make this a standard across Quebec.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
New provincial regulations that came into effect on March 18 affect thousands of Quebec building owners, including those who own condos.
Here is a four-part look at what some of the new rules in the building chapter of the Safety Code – geared at improving maintenance – mean for owners of buildings that fall under the RBQ’s jurisdiction and the challenges of enforcing them.
Owners of buildings with five-storeys and higher will have to get an architect or engineer to inspect their façades for things such as rust stains or cracks once every five years. Inspections will have to be completed between 2015 and 2018, depending on the age of the building.
Owners of multi-level parking garages must get an inspection by an engineer once every five years. Inspections will have to be completed between 2014 and 2016, depending on the age of the building.
All inspections of garages and façades will have to be kept in registries.
2. GENERAL FIRE SAFETY RULES
What’s affected: large condo buildings, hotels, motels with at least 10 rooms and private seniors’ residences.
Owners must have working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, along with a fire-detection system installed by March 2014
3. WATER COOLING TOWERS
Owners must follow a professionally designed maintenance program to be renewed every five years to curb the growth of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease.
These maintenance programs would have to be kept in a registry.
4. MUNICIPALITIES ACROSS QUEBEC
The RBQ is urging municipalities across Quebec to apply certain requirements from the Security Code to their own buildings, including smaller commercial properties and single family homes.
THE RBQ’S BUILDING CHAPTER OF THE SAFETY CODE IN NUMBERS:
44 Number of inspectors available to enforce provincial building code
1.7 million Estimated number of single family homes in Quebec
Estimated number of Quebec properties effected by the changes:
1,500 Cooling towers
3,650 Buildings with five-storeys or more
930 Multi-level garages