New safety rules may cost condo owners

Condo

‘They are less accustomed to investing in big repair work: ‘ condo law  attorney

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.

1. INSPECTIONS:

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

alampert@montrealgazette.com

 

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