As evacuated Castledowns Pointe residents prepare to meet Wednesday to hear more about the structural issues that have forced them from their condos in northwest Edmonton, a question hangs over their heads: who built the property engineers say could collapse and what happens next?
“The road ahead of them is going to be very challenging,” said Robert Noce, a lawyer at Miller Thomson in Edmonton who specializes in municipal law, real estate development, condominiums and corporate/commercial matters.
“Notwithstanding the fact that they are no longer living in their homes, they’re still responsible for their monthly condo fees, they are still responsible for their mortgage payments.
“On top of all of that, they now have to look for somewhere else to live. So they’re adding to their bottom line —and this will not end soon.”
On Tuesday, the City of Edmonton issued an order for all residents to vacate the 83-unit Castledowns Pointe condo building (12618 152 Ave.) in the Baranow neighbourhood in the Castle Downs area.
The order came after a post-fire inspection by engineers from Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. (RJC) revealed the building was not constructed properly two decades ago and could collapse at any moment.
There appear to have been critical discrepancies, oversight and errors in the original architectural and structural drawing that were not coordinated during the design stage or noticed during the construction and review of shop drawing, RJC said.
During their review, the structural engineers discovered the actual construction of the fire-damaged portion of the building was not the same as the engineered drawings on file, “and that the as-built conditions were under-designed to carry the structural load of the building,” according to a Sept. 1 letter to residents.
Tricia Lowrey is one of dozens of residents who had already been out of her home for five months because of the March fire that caused an estimated $8-million in damages.
“Home ownership is definitely not what I thought that it would be,” she said Wednesday.
After seeing the photos included in an engineering report, detailing the serious structural concerns with the condo building, Lowrey said she is less upset about being forced out by the fire.
“I almost felt relief — like, if it can’t be saved, maybe there’s a way to walk away from it because I don’t want to go back.”
Lowrey, along with dozens of other residents, now wants to know what happens next.
Property manager Simco Management said it has obtained a lawyer and is looking at all their options, including taking legal action against the parties involved in the construction process.
Noce said those lawyers will be tasked with determining if there’s a valid claim. Then, a decision has to be made on whether the condominium corporation wants to spend the money, time and effort on a lawsuit.
“It is not an easy process. It will take years to ultimately get a result and in addition to that, is the builder even in a position to even pay? Does the company even exist anymore?” he said.
“At the end of the day, the homeowners may be left with nothing other than significant costs and and expenses that they will continue to be responsible for.”
“So all of those things will come into play.”
Who was involved in the construction of Castledowns Pointe?
Documents obtained by Global News show the property is linked to a developer that, over several decades, has built many condos and other properties not just in Edmonton, but elsewhere in Alberta and in the Okanagan.
In February of 1999, the land on which the condo was built was bought by Carrington Properties Ltd. and signed off on by founder Ken Ferchoff, according to transfer of land documents publicly available from the Alberta government land titles office.
The document shows Carrington bought the plot of land near 153 Avenue and 127 Street from Argyll Ventures Ltd. For $315,000.
Carrington Communities is a part of the Carrington Group of Companies, according to its website, which includes Bedrock Homes, Carrington Homes, Carrington Land, and Lifestyle Options Retirement Communities.
The City of Edmonton confirmed Wednesday a building permit for the project was issued in August 1999.
Both that building permit, and the development issued months earlier in March, said Carrington applied for them.
The permits were for an 83-unit apartment-style building, containing a dozen three-bedroom units, 63 two-bedroom units, and eight one-bedroom condos.
Four years later in 2003, the Castledowns Pointe building was found listed on Carrington’s properties website, which listed nine different styles of two-bedroom units available at the building.
A “Carrington Pointe” sign can also be seen at the entrance of the property.
What’s unclear is who designed and engineered the property and what trades were involved in the construction.
Global News reached out to Carrington’s senior management twice this week to confirm the company’s involvement in the process.
Our first inquiry was sent on Monday, after spotting the sign at the condo. Ferchoff called Global News and said he didn’t think Carrington had built the condo, explaining no one had contacted the company about the fire in March or the subsequent investigation and Global’s inquiry was the first he’d heard of the issues.
Global News followed up on Wednesday after obtaining the above-mentioned documents and, as of publishing, had not receive a reply.
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The City of Edmonton was also asked on Tuesday who built Castledowns Pointe and said the city is “not in a position to provide the builder’s name as yet.”
A follow-up request was sent Wednesday, when the city said it was “unable to provide details about the builder or engineering firm on record for this project due to privacy legislation.”
What is the City of Edmonton’s role?
The city said the scope of the Castledowns Pointe project required professional involvement for the design and monitoring of construction materials and methods.
“The associated professionals are responsible to ensure that their design and construction materials comply with applicable Codes and Standards. The professionals are also required to provide documentation confirming that they will be doing site reviews,” a statement from the city said.
“Upon completion of the work, the professionals submit documentation confirming the work complies. The City conducts visual audits through the construction process for alignment with issued permits and applicable codes and standards. The Safety Codes Act dictates where permits are required,” it went on to say.
Noce said the city has a role in all developments inside its jurisdiction, issuing permits and performing inspections, but on big developments, tends to rely heavily on the developer’s experts.
“So the city, although should be more actively involved in these developments, generally, they’re not.
“They rely heavily on the developers — experts like engineers and architects — to sign off and ensure that the work is being done in accordance with building codes and other requirements.”
The property was never built to meet code, the engineers from RJC said in their Aug. 30 report.
It stated there were significant and unacceptable overstresses on the structure systematically throughout the condo building.
“Consequently, the building does not meet the life-safety requirements of the building code for residential occupancy,” it said, noting not only is the condo building not up to present day standards — it did not meet the building code in effect at the time of original design in 1999.
The city councillor for the ward the condo is in, Erin Rutherford, wants to know how the problems with the building happened and wants to see those responsible be held accountable.
“We need to have public trust: both in the city’s processes and in the people that are building our structures. In order to have public trust, we have to have accountability,” Rutherford said Wednesday at City Hall.
“Are there other buildings of concern?”
What legal action can be taken?
Noce noted there is consumer protection built into legislation that deals with condominiums in Alberta and the province recently amended it.
The government has to balance competing interests: consumers who want to see greater accountability and push back from the construction and home industry over concerns too many rules will hinder development and drive up costs. He said nothing is ever perfect.
“If consumers are looking for greater protection, they ought to be looking to the Government of Alberta for these type of scenarios, then the court system.”
He added the courts are limited to the law of the land and those who want changes need to lobby the province.
“Consumers need to look to the Government of Alberta for those additional protections that they so desperately need and want, and recognizing that the other side, the development industry, will also want their say to ensure that there is balance in the legislation.”
Simco Management owner Ray Pratt said an emergency meeting with the building’s 83 owners and the engineers was set to take place Wednesday evening.
Noce said legal action can go several directions, but noted both a win or a loss can help those who find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
“Number one, if ultimately (the condo corporation) gets a successful result in court, that will obviously provide others with the help they need and looking at their own cases if they choose to move forward. So some precedent in that regard helps,” he said.
“The flip side to that: if they fail and the courts identify the shortcomings of their case, that obviously helps you to advance a particular agenda to government, saying ‘This is why we lost, because of legislation or other obstacles in our way, prevent us as homeowners from getting any compensation for what has happened.'”
But again, Noce noted, the legal route is a very hard road to take because all of the parties involved are entitled to due process. Not only is the fight often between owners and the builder, but other parties such as contractors can be pulled in, adding to the complexity of the case.
“It’s very expensive and it’s very time consuming. And so a lot of homeowners just don’t want to go down that path because they just don’t have the energy, time or money to be consumed with a very lengthy lawsuit.”
On Wednesday, the city said given a registered professional engineer at Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. (RJC) has already inspected the building, the city will not do its own separate inspection.
“We will be connecting with the ownership group to follow up and permits will be required for any remedial action,” the city said.