Will my apartment building collapse like Florida?Experts say problems can be found faster in Canada
When Jack Driscoll saw the video of the collapsed apartment building in Surfside, Florida, his first thought was: “It’s terrible.”
Then he began to think: Will this happen in his house?
Driscoll lives on the second floor of a 12-story building on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Port. He can lean against the railing of the balcony and look directly at the sea water that is beating against the concrete foundation.
“You can’t help thinking about’hypothesis’,” he said. “What if there is a flood? What if there are cracks in the concrete?”
In the 2016 census, more than 3.6 million Canadians reported living in apartments. In Vancouver, more than 30% of the city’s residents are apartment dwellers, which is the highest in Canada.
The collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside prompted many apartment dwellers like Driscoll to ask whether their buildings are at risk of similar disasters.
According to the Canadian Apartment Institute, which advocates for apartment owners, there are approximately 113,000 apartment companies in the country. Canada has never seen a major structural failure in an apartment building. Regular inspections are required to spot potential problems before they become catastrophic. Almost all apartment buildings must save money to pay for future repairs. In Florida, none of these are mandatory.
“We have a big problem,” said Eric Glazer, an apartment attorney in Fort Lauderdale, who also wrote a blog and hosted a weekly radio show on apartment issues. For many years, he has advocated stricter supervision of apartment buildings.
“Now, we are implementing an honor system here,” he said, adding that it mainly depends on the apartment committee to monitor whether their buildings need repairs.
Only two counties in Florida require any form of official inspection of buildings — and only when they are 40 years old.
This is the case with the South Champlain Building. It was built in 1981 and its condition was evaluated for the first time in 2018. It found major structural problems that required millions of dollars in repairs.
Although the inspection engineer found no signs of impending structural failure, it was clear that the required work needed to be urgently completed.
But when the residents received $9.1 million in US bills, many of them refused and refused to approve the required work.
After three years of intense internal fighting, an agreement was finally reached, and by then the estimated cost had swelled to 15 million US dollars. When the building collapsed on June 24, the construction had just begun.
Different regulations in Canada
Canada’s apartment building inspection rules are very different.
Buildings must be evaluated every three to five years, depending on the province, to develop a so-called reserve fund study, also known as a depreciation report in British Columbia.
These studies predict the possible repair and replacement costs of major components (such as roofs, windows, elevators, balconies, heating and air conditioning) in the next 30 years.
The apartment board—with the exception of Prince Edward Island—has to pay for these future expenses through monthly apartment fees paid by all owners to cover the operating costs of the building.
Part of the reserve fund research process involves regular physical inspections of the building.
“In Ontario, you wouldn’t expect it to take 40 years to discover a problem that is obviously a long time ago,” said AvidCRP owner and certified reserve planner Chris MacMillan in Barrie, Ontario.
MacMillan worked with the apartment committee to ensure they set aside enough money to keep the building in good condition. He believes that problems discovered before the apartment in Florida collapsed will be discovered more quickly in Canada.
“This will be a red flag, and we will observe this during the on-site inspection of the reserve fund research,” he said.
Play catch up
However, many older apartment buildings are catching up with their reserve funds because they were not required by law to provide them with appropriate funds when they were built. They have now reached an era that requires a lot of basic maintenance.
“I would say that if your building is 30 to 40 years old, you should be worried,” McMillan said. “It’s not that it will crash, but that you should take action on any visible problems.”
That might be expensive. MacMillan cited an old building he was using, which required $10 million in maintenance costs, but the money saved in its early days was not enough to cover the cost.
Watch | Demolition of the remaining apartment buildings:
Calculating how much money to save is what Macmillan calls “inaccurate science.”
Although the service life of major items such as roofs, heating systems and windows is well known, the situation may change. A sudden leak may result in a roof replacement after 10 years instead of the expected 20 years. Raw material prices may soar, just like during the COVID pandemic.
However, if the reserve fund is properly maintained, there should always be plenty of funds available to cover most of the costs. MacMillan said the goal is to prevent expensive repairs in the future by paying for regular maintenance.
“Rainy day” not much
In Florida, this is a very different story.
Glazer said: “You would want the condominium association to put the money aside for emergencies, but the vast majority of associations in Florida don’t.”
Florida law allows apartment owners to vote on whether to keep a reserve fund or to reduce monthly fees as much as possible by not having a reserve fund.
“We have a lot of communities 55 years and older here. Many people in a community of 55 years and older believe:’Why do we have to save money for the roof in 15 or 20 years, and we might not do it? Still alive Are you still?” Glazer said.
The Champlain Towers South Apartment Association does have a reserve fund, but 40 years later, it has less than 7% of its funds for necessary repairs to the building.
Glazer believes that this disaster will lead to changes in Florida law, drawing on Canadian experience and forcing the condominium association to conduct more frequent inspections and maintain sufficient reserves.
MacMillan believes that the best way to solve the potential problems of Canadian apartment buildings depends on the people who live in them and manage them.
“Property managers and directors should conduct regular inspections themselves. They are not professionals, but they can at least determine the areas of concern,” he said.
This is exactly what Driscoll supports. He said he is now inspecting the underground parking lot in his building for cracks and water-the kind of warning signs found before the Florida disaster.
“I have never done this before,” he said. “But you need to know.”