Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about B.C. Condominiums.

'Oberlander knows her award-winning roof garden is not altogether intact. ... The roof had been leaking. It leaked so badly that the entire garden had to be replaced.'

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NEW! Purchase The Owner's Guide to B.C. Condominiums - 2010 - a scathing 21-page review of strata governance in the wild, wild west in the midst of a decades-old leaky condo epidemic. What to know about inspection, maintenance, major repairs and how to interpret gaps in strata records, which often reveal little or nothing about the building's true state of repair PLUS a formula to help buyers negotiate a reasonable offer. Download the report pdf for C$25.

More on the B.C. 'Billies responsible for Canada's Left Coast leaky condo epidemic. More on B.C.'s exotic 'failed housing' industry - who profits, who gets taken to the cleaners. More on renting and much needed affordable housing.

I'm visiting your coastal paradise for the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 and I'm thinking of buying a condo. Any advice?

Biblitz replies:


Beware, beware the ubiquitous image of a mist-covered mountain rainforest featured in guerilla marketing campaigns promoting the Vancouver real estate industry like the info-mercials now appearing regularly even in Canadian Geographic. It's an effort to lure still more suckers to Vancouver's 'red-hot'condo market, a description coined and oft repeated by the industry's carnival barkers, who even include members of the local bar!

Incredibly, lawyers in B.C. are permitted to work all sides of a real estate transaction, which may explain in large part why the province's 'leaky condo crisis' - as the courts refer to it - continues unabated. Why, too, such a disproportionate number of courses given by the local Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Society each year concern real estate. In this misty part of the world, at least, such an arrangement satisfies the profession's obligation to represent the public interest. A preferance that one's adviser take a more objective view of his client's conveyance is but a quaint, old-fashioned notion among B.C.'s native sons.

Lack of effective advocacy and consumer protection coupled with shameless, unchecked industry spin suggests to unwary consumers that massive building envelope failure after five or 10 years or anytime at all is somehow the new normal!

In spite of such contrived wastefulness, the sales spin is often filled with lofty claims of green and sustainability that conveniently fail to mention the environmental, financial and social fallout accompanying massive housing failure. Indeed, see the excerpt from the October, 2009 issue of CG, in which a typical self-appointed expert decries the wastefulness of historical buildings not in disrepair!

To confuse the B.C. bud-fed populace further, local planners and developers arrange awards for themselves to celebrate their success in ensuring a once vibrant downtown is now a dark, often empty wasteland of shadowy canyons echoing the wail of power tools as construction crews repair tower after tower of leaky highrises. Their 'densification' strategy has meant every second or third housing complex on the Lower Mainland has been or soon will be under tarps. Who can say which round of building envelope 'repair' many of the city's remaining co-ops are undergoing? No one knows for sure because, not surprisingly, perhaps, none of the local authorities are even tracking the problem!

In many cases, as owners are discovering, to maximize opportunity for the few, municipalities have even allowed condos on land known to pose a serious risk of flooding!

It's common knowledge that real estate developers, Premier Gordon Campbell among them, were behind the push to secure Olympics in the quest for new investors.

P.T. Barnum, that superior thinker, suggests they won't go unrewarded!

Ironically, the Provincial Law Courts building became the poster child for B.C.'s infamous building expertise.

Canadian Geographic

Queen of green

Inspired as a girl to make the world a little more environmentally friendly, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander has taken her cue from nature to become Canada's premier landscape architect and green-roof champion.

By Sarah Scott

September/October, 2007

More on a few more leaky, moldy, bunker-style disasters also the work of celebrated Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, the old fraud.

Even Science World, proud symbol of B.C. mathematical and engineering achievement, languished expensively under tarps.

Sustainability? Not surprisingly, since mere rain confounds B.C. builders, few insurers are willing to trust them with green roofs or rooftop gardens!

... The three-block-long park is planted on top of an office building that stretches between Robson Street and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Designed to look like a concrete sky-scraper lying on its side, the building houses the Provincial Law Courts, a UBC satellite campus and government offices. The roof has hanging gardens, pine trees and rhododendrons, three waterwalls to block out sounds of the city, plus a rink ... Robson Square, as it is known, has been celebrated for the interplay between the soft contours of Oberlander's roof garden and the sharp geometric lines of architect Arthur Erickson's construction. It is a place where lawyers and provincial bureaucrats do their daily business, but it has also become an oasis for anyone seeking an escape from the city's concrete core.

Yet today, as she drives past lines of pink dogwoods loaded with blossoms, Oberlander knows her award-winning roof garden is not altogether intact. The trees, bushes and vines were uprooted from the building in early 2006. The roof had been leaking. It leaked so badly that the entire garden had to be replaced. ... (-- pgs. 88-89)

Typical spin by a faraway 'influential' industry player quoted here to justify profit from a wasteful failed housing economy:

Canadian Geographic

Under One Roof

Green builders want to cut energy use. Heritage advocates want to save old buildings. And both camps are concerned about the future.

By James Clave

October, 2009

Lots more examples of guerilla marketing intended to make substandard multi-family housing in Vancouver the new normal.

And yes, plenty of brand new new single-family homes leak here, too!

... In 2006, an influential Santa Fe, Nexico-based architect named Edward Mazria ... analyzed federal government data to understand the role that buildings play in the global-climate emergency. ...

Mazria's findings were alarming. His research revealed that existing buildings, heritage and otherwise, consume nearly half - 48 oer cent - of all the energy used in the United States. Meanwhile, just 8.6 per cent of America's total energy goes into the manufacture of new building materials plus renovation and new construction. (We can assume these ratios are similar in Canada).

In other words, the fossil fuels we burn to heat, cool and power our existing buildings far exceeds what we burn to build and renovate them, even when you count the energy locked up inside the new materials. And while there are other environmental impactsd associated with new construction, such as the landfilling demolition waste, to Mazria and many others, the footprint trumps them all. (-- pgs. 54-55)

Was Saul Bellow right about the wacky weed-wonderful West Coast, one wonders?


Vancouver's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, legacy of a decades-long, province-wide leaky condo epidemic.

Develop, repair, restore, retrofit, rebuild ad nauseam.

More on the cryptic ways B.C. condo legislation grinds up local condo dwellers, who are little more than grist for a failed housing economy.

Photos March 29/06, not much different from the view today, at various reconstruction rehabilitation renovation projects along W. 7th Avenue at Oak Street reveal more than the ubiquitous low-rise, wood-frame leaky condo failures that have become the housing construction rule rather than the exception on Canada's Left Coast.

You laugh tonight and cry tomorrow / When you behold your shattered schemes ... The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

If you turn your gaze across the sparkling blue Burrard Inlet, you'll see the familiar green net tarps complete with protective white capping over several highrises - 431 Pacific and Parkview Towers - 289 Drake St.

A brisk walk along W. 7th Avenue between Oak and Cambie Dec. 31/09 revealed the familiar whine of a buzz saw emanating from a variety of dark interiors covered in scaffolding and blue and green net tarps. About every second or third complex revealed the tell-tale signs of 'leaky condo crisis.'


More on the dangerous procedures required to remove toxic mold and asbestos, a call by a Vancouver MP to investigate a long list of local buildings that may be at risk and a report on the recovery by some residents against a U.S. firm over home insulation laced with the cancer-causing stuff. Living through the removal of toxic substances is but one of the perils associated with an ongoing housing failure epidemic.

Before you buy a Vancouver condo:

More on the comparative value of real property on B.C.'s Lower Mainland and how to calculate affordability.

More on strata bullying typical among condo owners and their elected strata councils, the 'board lords' who often represent conflicting interests in the 'corporation'.

Buy on the assumption that your strata complex will require major repairs within a few short years. Though repair fees are shared collectively by all owners in the strata corporation, expect a bill for $50k-100+k for your share in addition to regular monthly strata fees as well as special outlays for occasional repairs/upgrades not the result of building envelope failure. Worst of all, as the co-op disaster reveals, one set of major repairs may be not be enough. The post-repair/restoration result may be no better than the original flawed design!

Accept that when problems arise, you're on your own. The standard advice to condo buyers is to consult an attorney to go over various condo documents, including the minutes of strata council meetings, prior to purchase. Good advice but, alas, it doesn't work that well here. For reasons known only to members, few of the local bar will undertake the job. Nor will they assist if/when you discover your strata council, typically a group of inexpert neighbor owners just like you, has been running the corporation into the ground.

It may seem as if the rules governing the maintenance of a multi-family strata complex are not attached in any way to established construction or legal principles.

Guess what? In B.C., they're not!

There are virtually no rules governing condo management here in the wild, wild west! And unlike landlord-tenant disputes, which are heard at the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch, there is no similar body here to adjudicate condo disputes. When a conflict arises, as it surely will in such close 'eco-densified' quarters, you'll have to either suck it up or take your neighbors to court, and local advocates don't even want to hear from you unless your winnable claim involves at least $50k!
Don't expect any support beyond the maxim, caveat emptor (buyer beware). Authorities both provincial and federal are well-acquainted with the leaky condo crisis and have been for some time. Unfortunately, a failed housing economy creates an illusion of economic wealth that's attractive to politicians. Maybe when enough investors lose their shirts, the situation will be addressed in a meaningful way. Maybe.