Tuesday, January 04, 2005

B.C.'s leaky schools a reminder of rot

VICTORIA - The greatest scandal to hit B.C. continues to unfold.
Not the legislature raids, or the fast ferries. They're small potatoes compared to the rip-off of more than $1.5 billion from people who made the mistake of believing that they could safely buy a home in B.C.
Those people believed that builders were competent and honest, and government regulators could be trusted. They thought they could invest their life savings in a home and at least be confident that it would keep the rain out.
And they were wrong.
The scandal is back in the news, as B.C.'s architects complain that the provincial government shouldn't be chasing them just because schools they designed are leaking. Up to 500 schools built since 1985 leak and need repairs, which will cost taxpayers $50 million to $100 million. The provincial government has written the architects involved and warned that they may be sued.
That doesn't seem unreasonable. But the Architectural Institute of BC, which represents the profession, isn't happy.
Their concern is partly justified. B.C. liability law currently allows people who have been hurt to seek damages from anyone responsible. If most of them have no money or have vanished, then those that are left can be forced to pay most of the damages, even if they are found to be only partly responsible.
That raises the risk of unfairness. But it also recognizes that the real victim deserves compensation.
The architectural institute also argues that the government wanted low-cost construction, so it should share some of the blame. That will be a convincing argument only if an architect can find a copy of a letter he wrote advising that the school would leak.
And the institute maintains that collecting the money - even if the architect was clearly responsible - would be too harsh. Architects might have to file for bankruptcy, and lose their homes.
It's a bit much. The institute's members designed some 65,000 housing units across the province that leaked. Seniors spent everything they owned on retirement condos only to find they had to come up with $20,000 or $120,000 more as their share of repairs. Buyers have gone bankrupt, they've lost their homes and their lives have been ruined.
That's not all the fault of architects, although the institute's web site makes much of the architect's role in co-ordinating a team of engineering specialists. But if they are confident that they bear no responsibility, the architects can let the province take them to court. If they're blameless, they have few worries.
The education ministry has taken on the school problem, reckoning in part that it's too costly for each school district to try and find out who is responsible for the leaks and collect damages.
But homeowners don't have that option. Each strata council would have to wage its own battle for justice; and for most justice is just too expensive.
Personal responsibility is an important thing. But these people didn't do anything wrong. They bought condos from apparently responsible builders, with architects and engineers in place, and government inspectors supposedly vigilantly watching. Many of them asked all the right questions.
And they were ripped off, sold buildings that couldn't keep out the rain.
The provincial government has come up with $300 million in interest-free loans to help some people survive the disaster.
But it should have done much more. If school districts need help in dealing with the issue, then homeowners need assistance all the more.
Government can't step in and pay the rebuilding costs (although it is hard to see how some of the responsibility doesn't rest with all three levels of government, which had a role in setting and enforcing construction rules).
But it could find a way to offer the same kind of support in seeking justice to homeowners that it has to school districts, providing at least some hope for thousands of battered people.
Footnote: The leaky condo scandal remains one of the most astonishing events in the province's history. Some $1.5 billion to $2 billion has been plucked from thousands of homeowners' pockets, and almost no one has been held to account.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On "leaky" buildings - - -

It is a myth that there are any leaks. Using the "leak" verbage is an attempt to hide the real crime that has been committed.


If you understand this, you will know why the designers of these buildings should be held accountable and financially ruined (or worse). And, you'll know why they want the problem to be called "leaks."