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Strata Mondays #4 – Leaky Condos Part I

In my continuing series about strata property, Strata Mondays, I answer a different question about condos, townhouses and other strata property in Victoria, Sooke, and British Columbia. Make sure you subscribe via RSS or E-mail to get each new post.

Leaky Condo being repaired

Leaky Condo being repaired

Q. I’ve heard the term “Leaky Condo” from my friends and family, and that I should avoid buying one. What is a leaky condo?
A. Put simply, a leaky condo is an attached strata unit (condominium or townhouse) that suffers grossly premature building envelope failure (water ingress/leaks) that causes major damage to the exterior and sometimes interior of the building. The end result is extremely costly repairs, some of which have yet to be carried out today, 10 years after the end of the”leaky condo era.”

The leaky condo crisis emerged in the late 1980s through the 1990s in coastal British Columbia as a result of two major factors. First, the design craze of the time was Californian style architecture. Second, new rules in the building code required builders to seal up exterior walls, in an attempt to increase energy efficiency.

In Coastal B.C. it rains a lot. California-style architecture is mostly stucco buildings with flat roofs, and little or no overhang from the top of the roof over the walls. If you look at most traditional buildings in Vancouver and Victoria, you’d find pitched roofs and/or good overhangs over the top of the exterior walls.

The new building code required builders to seal up the buildings to keep air out, to increase energy efficiency. The problem is that by doing this, water can still seep in. Without adequate ventilation to dry out the moisture, the wooden exterior wall starts to rot. Balconies were often worse – water would seep in and rot the support beams creating a safety hazard.

Rotten balcony supports

Rotten balcony supports

Often, the only real solution was complete building envelope replacement. This involved tearing off the entire face of the building, replacing most of the plywood sheathing, properly weather screening it, and replacing the exterior cladding with something more suitable to the design of the building and the climate in which it stands. This is extremely expensive, and it’s not unheard of to hear of owners having to shell out $30,000-$50,000 or even more in special assessments to get it right. Some stratas were able to successfully sue the developers and recover some of the money they paid, but many were on the hook for the repairs. But most of these buildings had warranties, right? Well, many did, but unfortunately the unraveling of the leaky condo crisis caused most of the home warranty outfits to disappear into bankruptcy, further leaving owners in the lurch.

Check back next Monday for Part II, when we’ll cover what’s changed since 1999.

Tim Ayres – Sooke Real Estate Professional

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