Fort Saskatchewan condo owners on hook for repairs to structurally unsound building

Click to play video 'Structurally unsound Fort Saskatchewan condo building set to be repaired' Structurally unsound Fort Saskatchewan condo building set to be repaired
After sitting empty for a year, owners in a Fort Saskatchewan condo building are getting closer to finally moving back in. Last year the building was evacuated after it was deemed unsafe. Sarah Komadina explains. – Aug 18, 2020

It’s been a long road for Riverview Estates condo owners in Fort Saskatchewan.

In August 2019, one of the two buildings had to be evacuated after engineers found it to be structurally unsound.

Read more: Fort Saskatchewan condo deemed ‘structurally unsafe,’ building evacuated

A year later, a majority of condo owners voted to do the repairs, which is expected to cost $4 million.

After multiple requests from the condo board, the insurance company finally agreed to cover $1.5 million. Any outstanding costs will fall on all 87 owners from both buildings.

READ MORE: Fort Saskatchewan condo evacuees start to move out their belongings as building sits in limbo

Birgit Blizzard owns two condos in the occupied building. Blizzard said the financial burden is tough but it’s important to get people back into their homes.

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“I feel bad. For some people, this is their retirement home. Now, they still have to pay a mortgage and then rent to live elsewhere,” Blizzard said.

Blizzard is relieved insurance is covering some of the costs but said the whole sum should be covered.

“This is something that couldn’t have been foreseen. It’s no act of God. This is something that should be covered by insurance or the province or the city,” Blizzard said.

Many owners, including Blizzard, appreciate the work the condo board has done to keep owners in the loop and continually try to find the best solution for everyone.

Frank Garritsen owns a condo in the evacuated building. He said he is just trying to think on the positive side of things.

“If there is one thing out of all of this, this will probably be the safest building in Fort Saskatchewan after all the engineers have gone through and rebuild,” Garritsen said.

“It’s an unfortunate experience. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through this but I think it could have been a lot worse.”

Riverview Estates lawyer Hugh Willis said this is a hard situation for everyone to go through.

“I think this is incredibly difficult for every owner. Regardless of when a person purchased their unit, this is one of the most difficult catastrophes I’ve seen in my career. The financial circumstance [and] the financial consequence on all owners is devastating,” Willis said.
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Read more: ‘Structurally unsound’: Fort Saskatchewan condo owners may be out of homes for another 6 months

Willis said the board has a couple of options when it comes to borrowing money.

“[They] include borrowing money from an institution that will lend money to a condo corporation or alternatively a special levy. So there is ongoing discussion with lenders right now to try for a loan, and if that doesn’t come to fruition, perhaps a special levy or maybe a combination of both,” Willis said.

“Unfortunately, not all of the answers are positive. We’re not going to get 100 per cent insurance on here. We are not going to get 100 per cent contribution from other parties who may or may not have been responsible for this occurring.”

Willis said the board still has time to take legal action against responsible parties.

Unique circumstance

Brian Oliphant moved into the unaffected building just 12 hours before the other building was evacuated. Oliphant said his scenario is a unique circumstance and wants his share of the cost to be reduced significantly.

“We all take risks buying into a condo but I don’t think anyone expects that 12 hours into buying your new home,” Oliphant said.

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“I was one of the few that voted against [repairing the condo]. I’m from the position of you got an investor that bought in 12 hours before this happened. There’s been nobody that has come to say, ‘Hey, we are going to try and help you out.'”

“I’m lumped in with everybody else.”

Willis responded directly to these complaints.

“The circumstances of this owner are very sympathetic, as are the circumstances of all other owners within the complex. There can be no doubt of the financial and emotional burden that this situation has created,” Willis said.

“When presented with a maintenance item, Riverview Estates undertook an investigation, which is the normal course for many condominium corporations across Alberta. The investigation was carried out with the advice of engineers, and the issuance and timing of the evacuation order were not within the control of the condominium corporation.

“Substantial investigation has been completed and the extent of the damage was not known until after this owner took possession.”

There is no set date on when repairs to the building will start but Willis said it will be a matter of months, not years.