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Strata Mondays #6 – Leaky Condos Part III

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.

A building awaits new landscaping after membrane replacement.

A building awaits new landscaping after membrane replacement.

Q. I’m considering buying a condo in an older building here in Victoria, BC – it was built in 1978. Do I need to be worried about leaky condos and expensive repairs?

[Read Part I of this post here, and Part II here.]

A. Yes and no. While older condos built in the ’70s and ’80s are not usually subject to the systemic problems that caused premature building envelope failure, there are still things you need to know. First, “leaky condos” were caused by premature building envelope failure – with an older building there might be problems with the building envelope related to its age, necessitating a renewal project. Hopefully, over the life of the building, the strata corporation has been doing the necessary preventative maintenance.

Increasingly common with buildings of this era are problems with the underground parking garage. Leaks develop and water slowly trickles down through the suspended slab of the parkade roof and into the garage. You might wonder what the big deal is; there are always drains and no one lives down there. But over time, if left uncorrected, the water will corrode the reinforcing steel embedded in the concrete, causing concrete decay and eventual structural damage – and the condo building is built upon the garage, after all.

The footprint of the building is smaller than the footprint of the parking garage, like this:

Finally, a use for MS Paint.

Finally, a use for MS Paint.

When the building was constructed, the parking garage was built first, and then the foundation of the building on top of the suspended slab roof of the parking garage. To prevent water leakage, a waterproofing membrane was attached to the sides of the building and over the top of the parking garage. On top of the membrane, the finishing landscaping and walkways, etc, were placed:

No, I didn't even TRY to draw a car.

No, I didn't even TRY to draw a car.

Over time, depending on the quality of the membrane originally installed, leaks will develop. Roots from trees could penetrate the membrane, there could have been small holes when it was originally installed, or it could just be breaking down after so long. The only real solution to the problem is to replace the membrane. The only way to do this is to dig up all the landscaping and other surface finishing, tear off the old membrane, replace it and then re-finish the landscaping. As you can imagine, this is not cheap – it’s not like you can re-use the  the excavated trees, concrete, and dirt – there’s no room on the property. It all has to be trucked away, and then new landscaping trucked in. I know of one building in Victoria whose residents had to shell out $20,000-$30,000 to have this done.

There are cheaper “solutions” sometimes floated by strata councils who don’t want to bite the bullet and replace the membrane. If the source of the leak can be identified, the area can be excavated, and the membrane patched. However, this is a temporary solution that may or may not work, and it will only prolong the inevitable, pushing up the cost when there are no more patches to do.

So, as a condo buyer, you should carefully examine the strata council minutes and find out if parkade waterproofing is an issue. If there has been an engineer’s report in the last few years you should carefully examine it. If there is no evidence in the strata records, you should specifically as your property inspector to have a look at the underground parking for potential leaks. You could also ask your REALTOR® if he or she knows whether or not the parking waterproofing has been replaced.

Tim Ayres – Sooke Real Estate Professional

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  • Katherine Rolston

    I found this article extremely informative. I’ve put in an offer on a 10 story concrete building which requires repairs of at least $300,000. I’m collecting the Engineer’s Report to review. They have not yet received a firm quotation for this repair, and apparently will not for about a month. Thanks to your article I may back away from this apartment purchase.