The City of Calgary was faced with a tough dilemma in 2014. After a series of events that culminated in the collapse of a building façade, it was time to take action. Inquiries were gathered. Experts met. The City was prepared to move on a new bylaw to hold owners accountable. Except the law was flawed. Very flawed. In November of 2015 Calgary City Council voted down the proposed bylaw and sent it back to committee to face some serious rewrites.
Fast forward to today and there is hope for change. The bylaw that took into account almost none of our industry’s standard practices is in front of us again. This time the City is making a clear effort to figure out how to make its laws work in the real world.
Where we’re at today:The City of Calgary’s primary concern to date is the necessity of a "qualified professional" to be involved in the process of reviewing building exteriors. ACMA, and the stakeholders at large, agree that someone with professional qualifications should be looking into maintenance issues. A professional who has expertise in the area is a necessity. But who is a qualified professional? If you hire a firm to do a building envelope assessment who do they send? Engineers? Architects? Someone with a degree in building science? What if your building has materials they are unfamiliar with? Should the city be choosing the individuals or is that up to individual firms? This element is still up for discussion. ACMA is working in conjunction with other building management groups to define the answer.
The non-professional route
While ACMA agrees that there should be professional involvement in this process, there are other elements to consider. The first is cost. Additional operational expense for any condominium is hard to bare. What if there were an acceptable hybrid? The City of Calgary heard this rational argument as well. How could non-professional (and theoretically lower cost) assessment work?
The city is currently looking into a set up like this:
A non-professional, qualified building envelope inspector comes out to your property and evaluates it along the following criteria.
|#||Name of Ranking||Conclusion||Observations||Action Required||Timeframe|
|1||Acceptable||Fully functional Properly maintained No observed safety hazard Good Condition||Like new condition||Follow-up review||Next assessment (or 2 years)|
|2||Minor attention required||Functionality limited Maintenance required to prevent further deterioration Minor safety hazard Fair condition||Minor cracking, staining, leaking, efflorescence and discoloration observed Cosmetic damage not relevant to structural integrity No expected risk to public safety||Minor maintenance repairs required||< 2 years|
|3||Major attention required||Performance affected Remediation required Probable safety hazard Poor condition||Visible deterioration, showing cracks, gaps and bulging of elements Minor deterioration due to improper fit Repairs/maintenance/upgrades can be performed to rectify the problem without compromising public safety||Major maintenance required Permits may be required Professional consult may be required||< 6 months|
|4||Unacceptable||Performance compromised Remediation required immediately Major safety hazard Dangerous condition||Extensive damage/deterioration with direct effect on public safety High frequency of significant damage throughout Severe corrosion, extensive leakage and leaching, substantial breaks in continuity of surfaces||Permit required Professional Engineer consult required||Immediately|
This matrix makes sense if someone can visually verify that a building is in good condition and knows what they are looking for. But, in the absence of professional ethical standards and building science expertise in place there is room for nefarious practice.
There are other conditions on the table that we encourage you to consider. The two-year maximum time frame suggested by this schedule would only match up with required envelope assessments one in every five assessments. The entire process will still occasionally lead to qualified professional assessment which are required for other reasons in condominium. Most buildings already have a preventative maintenance cycle and this assessment doesn’t account for current practice.
Also, did we mention that the bylaw only applies to buildings that are five stories and taller? That the process is meant as a compliance piece and would not be actively investigated until a complaint is made or an incident happens? Well now we have. These records are really only meant to assign blame when bad things have already happened. Will this really mitigate risk to the public?
What about concerns from the professional community that this would severely overtax their operations? There is already a premium on engineers and architects in Calgary. Adding additional duties to their roster has been raised as a major concern.
We believe that this bylaw is important. Condominium managers are keenly aware of the disaster that strikes when preventative maintenance is ignored. We believe that community involvement in this bylaw is critical. Continue to stay up to date on this bylaw. It is a very important piece for all of Alberta going forward.