Toronto Life - The Informer

Insider intel on the politics and personalities shaping the city. Sign up for Preview newsletter for weekly updates

Features

37 Comments

Faulty towers: who’s to blame for condoland’s falling glass, leaky walls and multi-million-dollar lawsuits

Faulty Towers

Jan Gandhi and Omar Jabri share a love of big-city life: the people, the architecture, the fashion, the logarithmic bustle of human energy that comes from high-density, high-rise living. They first met as articling students with different Bay Street law firms, introduced by mutual friends. Together they moved to New York, where Gandhi worked as in-house counsel for MTV and Jabri as an intellectual property lawyer, and they lived in an apartment in Chelsea. Gandhi became addicted to flash-sale websites, filling her wardrobe with deeply discounted designer fashions. Flash sales are enormously popular in New York. She saw an underserved market in Toronto, so she hatched a plan to return and launch her own site.

THE FESTIVAL TOWER
OPTIMA
MURANO

When they moved back in 2011 they were determined to live downtown. “We wanted a place where we could feel the energy of the city,” says Gandhi, who is 34 years old and striking. They settled on renting a glitzy, all-white 16th-floor unit in the Festival Tower, a brand-new 41-storey building by the developer Daniels. Their view was of the theatre district and, directly below, the rooftop deck of the TIFF Lightbox—the scene of many film festival parties. At night, the lights of the Gardiner formed a shimmering, suspended horizon. “It was bigger than the apartment we had in Chelsea, and it was cheaper, too,” says Jabri, who is 35. They signed a lease for $2,600 a month, with a view toward purchasing their own condo in the city core down the road.

Six weeks later, in mid-May, their ideal downtown life was shaken. “The property manager called me at work to tell me that a pane of glass had fallen from my balcony,” Jabri recalls. The manager couldn’t say how it happened. Tempered glass is designed to shatter into tiny pieces when struck, but what could have struck it? “The only thing we kept on the balcony was my bike,” Jabri says, “and I’d ridden it to work that morning.” Perhaps a bird, then, or something falling from higher up.

Jabri honed in on one question: “What’s our liability?” He wondered if anyone had been hurt, if any property had been damaged below, what his insurance policy would cover, and what it all might cost him. When he told Gandhi about the glass, she immediately thought of the amount of time she spent on the balcony. “We dog-sit for my parents when they go away,” she says. “Can you imagine? The dog could have fallen. A child could have fallen.”

By the time they got home, their balcony had already been secured with a plywood board where the glass had been. Within days a fresh pane of tempered glass was installed. No one hurt, everything back as it was, liability nil.

The couple didn’t give the matter another thought until the Tuesday evening after the August long weekend. Jabri was standing at the busy corner of King and John when he looked up at his building and was startled to see the debris from another pane of glass falling to the sidewalk below. The shards rained down like a hailstorm. People on John Street scattered to escape the pellets, some dashing into the middle of the road. “When I realized it was happening again, that’s when I thought it could be a design flaw or poor workmanship,” he says.

By then, all of Toronto had turned into a collective Chicken Little, convinced the sky was falling in the form of glass shards. At the 45- and 37-storey Murano towers at Bay and Grosvenor, built by the developer Lanterra, at least 15 panes of glass shattered and fell between April 2010 and September 2011. Balcony glass fell from another Lanterra development last summer as well, the prestigious One Bedford condo tower in the Annex.

The falling glass phenomenon continued into this year. In March, a pane fell from the Trump Tower, closing the intersection of Bay and Adelaide and snarling traffic for the better part of a day. In April, the developer Concord Adex, realizing that it used the same glass supplier as Lanterra and Daniels, decided to wrap all the balconies at three of its towers—one at CityPlace, two up at ParkPlace in the Sheppard and Leslie area—in mesh as a precaution.

Under pressure from city hall to ensure public safety, Daniels and Lanterra locked residents out of their balconies and erected protective plywood hoardings over sidewalks. The developers decided to replace the tempered balcony glass, at their own cost, with laminated glass (the kind used in windshields, which holds together and stays in place even following a full-force collision). But it’s not easy to get your hands on hundreds of large panes of laminated glass, and as of late spring the process of replacing the old ones remained unfinished.

  • JoeTory

    “The code’s job is to enforce a minimum standard: buildings must be structurally sound, have serviceable plumbing, adequate heating and enough fire escapes, and generally pose no threat to human safety”

    What do you expect? The government to inspect glass or concrete or insulation, to enforce higher energy efficiency standards, and to make judgments about the quality of construction? That sounds like Europe to me.

    Mike Harris did away with all that “Big Government” garbage when he streamlined the building code with the “Back To Basics” plan. The conservatives got rid of a bunch of useless probably-unionized-and-therefore-evil inspectors and rewrote the building code to make construction and maintenance cheaper for building owners and developers.

    It may have caused some problems with Toronto condos and maybe even the Elliot Lake Mall thingie, but the jobs and wealth created are worth it, IMHTO (In My Humble Tory Opinion). It’s up to the individual, like Ayn Rand always said: People have to do their research before leasing a condo – perhaps hire an architect to do an independent assessment, and a private investigator to dig up information on the owners.

    Caveat Emptioutus Pouchesis. The buyer who doesn’t beware, empties their pockets.

  • Mark

    “Toronto has never been a city where people live in tall buildings”

    Wrong. Half the population rents. Most of them are in 10 to 20 story rental towers throughout the city, many built in the 50′s and 70′s. Your 1986 fantasy of”clean, tree-lined residential streets of semi-detached homes” as the norm shows you did no research. You guys really don’t ever leave downtown, do you?

  • Moss

    @JoeTory

    And what happens, Mr. Tory, when a falling piece of glass kills someone walking on the street? I guess they should’ve hired an architect to make sure the building was safe to walk under, right? I’m sure the two women who died in the Elliot Lake Mall “thingie”, as you callously call it, should’ve done their research before entering a public mall? But who cares about their lives—it’s totally worth the sacrifice for a few temporary jobs.

    Look, I don’t agree in a total European nanny state either, but a stronger, updated condo code would simply make it easier to hold developers accountable for any shortcuts they take. Taking “free market > all” to extremes is foolish. Should we abolish safety regulations in food? Cars? Planes? Here, and in all those cases, there are much larger issues at stake than ideology.

  • Jason

    Blaming Mike Harris for the Elliot Lake collapse. Priceless.

  • ah123

    Typical conservative approach.

    Blame “big government” for nurturing a “nanny state”, slash programs and scale back policies on that premise so developers can do what they want in the guise that it creates jobs and provides cheaper fees, people rush in to buy, finds massive problems, then the government at the time becomes the idiot holding the poop bag behind the elephant. Ultimately, the taxpayer bails out the unsuspecting buyers while the developers and cronies of the Tory got rich building sub-standard projects.

    Haven’t we seen this before?

    There are reasons why government regulations in some areas are not just needed, they are there to protect our future pocketbooks and our safety.

    Ask B.C. and the $670 million it doled out for shoddy developers’ buildings.

    I bet if someone finally gets killed by a falling glass pane is why the government will finally get the public behind it to do something over all that developers’ cash.

    Here’s hoping. Sad, but necessary sacrifice to have someone do something once and for all.

  • Paul

    Why is this article now added online? Wasn’t the print version published sometime ago.

  • My myself and I

    Paul, don’t you know it takes time to put things online from print ?

    Not many people are around to write this lengthy article, let alone proofreading it. Be grateful someone did it.

  • JoeTory

    “Blaming Mike Harris for the Elliot Lake collapse. Priceless.”

    Harris didn’t cause the collapse. We don’t know what happened yet.

    But…

    One thing that didn’t collapse was the profit margins of the mall owners. Had the building code been the Big Liberal Government boogeyman it once was, the owners would have been forced to pay for expensive, unnecessary repairs to the roof instead of repeatedly using sealant to temporarily stop leaks.

    Had they done extensive assessments required under the old building code, the mall probably would have been condemned considering the extensive water damage and Elliot lake would have lost their community hub anyways.

    So same difference to the community minus the unfortunate loss of life caused by a freak accident.

  • Cruella

    Another TL article calling for the end of times in Toronto thanks to the condo market. GET A LIFE, TORONTO LIFE!!!

  • S.

    The writer of this article is correct. Every condo has a story. Our condo developed leaks in the wall system. The special assessment to repair the problem including mold was $35,000. It is an older building. The maintenance fees have increased too. I regret selling our home to move into the so called carefree condo lifestyle.

  • condo girl

    Toronto Life, you failed to mention that many newly formed condo boards are populated with the “insiders”, either those that bought investment suites, or otherwise friends of developers that might be living in the buildings.

    Many of the initially pre-sold units belong to “insiders” and not the public at large. This developer friendly board then is able to inform the developer of the goings on of the condo board and influence the decisions acoordingly (at least for the 1-2 years the first board is in place (coincidentally similar time period to the Tarion warrenty).

  • Michael

    Condo boards are elected positions by the owners of the condo units. Members are not assigned by the developer and the developer has no say in who is on the board.

    This is all defined in the Condo Act.

    If owners want a say in the management of their building then it is up to them to particpate in the AGMs, vote for who they want to represent them, or run for election themselves.

  • Kelly

    Wow a $35k assessment, that’s painful. I recently paid a $7k assessment for roof issues on my small 36 unit infill townhouse complex and I thought that was bad. I sold that townhouse and am moving to a new condo cityplace to be closer to work. Of course I’d rather buy a house, but houses just are not affordable. Do a search on realtor.ca, there is practically nothing under $500k unless you want a really old house that would require a ton of work (and I’m not talking cosmetic, I’m talking structural as in roofing, electrical, plumbing, insulation) that would easily bring the house to well over $500k just to make it livable, and even at that price you wouldn’t be in a nice neighborhood. For that reason alone, I believe that the condo market will remain strong, there are simply no houses out there on the market. What is available is way of of the price range for the thousands of condo dwellers like myself. I am looking forward to ditching my 1 hour each way commute, walking to work, and using my building’s brand new amenities

  • condo girl

    @ Michael – true, but the developers find ways to get around that. I’m speaking from experience.

  • Kelly

    @ condo girl, my experience with my townhouse complex was as follows: the board was made up of residents who were elected by other residents who had no affiliation with the builder. However, the Property Mangement company was selected by the builder, and they “advised” our board on almost every matter, who pretty much accepted all recommendations as our board is made up of just regular people with no experience in condo management matters and had to rely on the “professionals” for advice.

    This property management company then proceeded to bleed us dry, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and had us sign away our rights in terms of construction deficiencies by the builder.

    Point is, boards are elected. “Insiders” may be slicker in their presentations at the elections which may sway residents to vote for them, but they are still elected solely by the residents.

  • stella

    I know enough people in Vancouver stuck with unsellable shoddy condos in Vancouver impossible to afford fixing them as there is no one to protect them I think whether it is condos or regular buildings or subsidized housing all renters and owners should be protect from slum landlords and greedy developers. Though if you ask me their isn’t enough affordable housing in Toronto if Canada would adopt the same plan as the UK does and help people own their first home and those on supports as well. As it is the gov’t is shutting down the rent subsidy program at the end of this year to help me afford my market rental in the city as market rent is extortionate I still don’t know where I will be living at the end of the year as TCHC and Housing connections offers the poor and immigrants and disabled shoddy housing riddled with disrepair, roaches, rats and drug gangs in very bad areas. I could at the moment give a rat’s arse about condo owners and greedy property developers.

  • Rex Saigon

    Torontonians need to see more stories like this. While I’d love nothing more than to own my own home, I’ve had to struggle with the realization that I just can’t afford it on my salary (which is respectable) and my savings (which are likewise respectable). While renting has its drawbacks, they’re nothing compared with the horror stories from condo owners. The fact that we hear so few of them doesn’t mean they aren’t living through it (or will be); it just means, as the article states, that owners are afraid to speak on the record for fear of the development companies. That’s home ownership?!? A friend just got into her first condo recently (BUT as a tenant with mucho help from home, which is pretty much par for the course with young women these days). The building, in the Sheppard and Leslie area of North York, is only a few months old and already it has those ugly black SACKS covering the balcony glass! And just wait until a few seasons worth of weather takes its toll on the sacks and the balconies start looking worse than my 40-year-old apartment building, which in the six years I’ve lived there has given me no grief whatsoever, from either the unit itself of the company that owns the building. And what money I’m able to save each month actually goes into my savings and not into condo fees, unexpected repairs and lost work income from having to be home when a problem is (supposedly) fixed. In the end, I’ll always wish I could own my own home — I come from a smaller city where it was actually possible, and the build quality is better — but such is the reality for a lot of Torontonians who don’t want to be swimming in allegedly “good” debt.

  • brooklin99

    Sure glad I live in a nice 3000+ sq foot home with an inground swimming pool, hot tub backing onto a forest.
    Yeh for me and my family!
    Stay safe!

  • Bruixa

    We own a condo that’s supposted to be high end; not the City Place type. When we first saw it we were impressed with the finishes and its unique characteristics. so we bought. fast forwad to our first AGM and we find out the the front stairs are faulty- weren’t built correctly so water is passing through to the underground garage and threatening the building. Other deficiencies included the hallway carpets which were torn with less than a year of use, etc. CONTEXT, the developer, had decided to cut corners installing things below grade. So the board decided to fix everything, while we the owners paid, and simultaneously negotiate with CONTEXT. To summarize, the judge decided in CONTEXT’s favour mostly due to a technicality, even though it was obvious they were at fault. That’s how screwed up the condo legislation is.

  • builder

    As a manager with one of the more reputable construction companies in the city it makes me very sad to see that the outlook on the construction industry is: that we are out to try to cut corners. I feel this article is based on a few ‘worst case scenarios’ which is fair but I’d like to make a few opinions clear:

    a) Specifications for materials have actually become much more thorough in the last few years, what’s happened now is, in order to provide best value for money, designers put together what’s called ‘performance specifications’ in order to not sole source materials and keep pricing competitive. If this didnt happen a single supplier could simply price their material at whatever cost without competition and everyone’s condo’s would be double the price.

    b) “skimping on the cement coating over steel rebar” that’s an insane accusation and is never done. Structure is one of the most important aspects of the building. What is different are the engineering practices and building materials used today. 10 years ago all of the slabs used to be 18″ thick, today because of materials and modern day engineering practices we can build slabs 8″ thick giving you those extra high ceilings.

    c) “No one is watching him and he knows it. And he is under pressure to finish the job and move on to the next one.” – most tradesmen I’ve ever been in contact with that work in the city (bordering on thousands now) take great pride in their work and won’t settle with shit.

    Not speaking on the condo developer / condo board process, I think what needs to be highlighted here is money for product. Unfortunately we live in a society where you get what you pay for. Sure the walls might leak sound in the $200,000 entry level condo building, but you can bet your ass that the $1.5 million penthouse doesn’t leak sound. The key thing here is to do your research and ask the right questions before ever purchasing your condo, look into the developer’s hisory and make sure they are a reputable company who puts their money where their mouth is.

  • JoJo

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Please, oh please, won’t someone stop this mess? Soon there will be no more sunshine on downtown streets. Everyone downtown will be in the shawdows of condos. You are all killing this city and the views and the beauty of it by paving over everything and building all of these eye sores. Why would you want to live in that box in the sky only to have another box be built beside you and now you have no sunlight coming through your windows either and no view. Seriously – who is regulating this situation. WE ARE FULL! DOWNTOWN IS FULL! The TTC and the roads can’t handle any more people. Stop polluting our skies with these condos! We can’t all live downtown and we shouldn’t try. We are doing damage that cannot be undone. This city needs a hero. Like the Toronto Public Space Committee. Someone needs to protect this city.

  • Mel S.

    Regarding “builder’s” comments that developers do not cut corners…not true. Our waterfront condo had to have the lobby floors and the hallway carpet replaced within three years. The finishes did not stand up to the traffic and pets. The heat pumps are gradually being replaced because they too failed within a few years. The company that manufactured them went out of business so no recourse there. The board had to fight tooth and nail against the developer to repair the damaged finishes and was not successful meaning we have to pay for the replacements…so we pay twice! You don’t hear these stories because everyone is afraid of harming their property values such as they are. It perpetuates the problem.

  • Bebe Lizardo

    Excellent, well-written article.
    However, I somehow find it hard to sympathize with a collective of affluent, educated people who are perhaps to blame for their own misfortunes. Having been propagandized so thoroughly by advertising and greedy real estate salespersons/developers into squandering their resources to buy into a mythical “downtown” lifestyle that doesn’t actually exist must be a bummer, indeed! No wonder the “condo people” are so self-centered, rude and demanding when they have to leave the ant farm and interact with ordinary people in the real world! Especially when they have to put up with being accosted by filthy beggars en route to Cafe Outre Mon Diva where a glass of house wine and an amuse bouche will relieve one of forty bucks. Ha, ha!
    Better luck next time on the purchase of a unicorn guaranteed to win the Kentucky Derby!

  • Toby

    Bruixa mentions Context giving problems, as does the article re their work at “Loretto” a heritage building. Leasiders well remember the long and difficult (and expensive) battle fought against a proposal of Context re another heritage site, Context lost, we won, on both the OMB and heritage gronts. Whew!
    Toby

  • Karen

    What about all that poop? Without new wastewater treatment infrastructure, much of the condo excrement will be redirected into Lake Ontario (ecojustice.ca report below):

    TorontoJul 18, 2012
    Toronto – Wastewater treatment regulations announced today by the federal government will allow raw sewage to be dumped into Canada’s water until 2040, according to Ecojustice.

    Based on a review of the Wastewater System Effluent Regulations, which will apply to municipalities across the country, the national environmental group concluded that a loophole will permit municipalities to delay upgrades for up to 28 years, jeopardizing the lakes, rivers and other sources of water that sustain Canadian communities.

    http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/loophole-in-national-wastewater-regulations-puts-canadian-communities-at-risk

  • Adam C

    As a new condo owner, I have found that the builder’s DO cut corners on everything they possible can from trim to interior walls to exterior sealing. My advice is to NEVER, EVER buy from a developer or builder. There are so few reputable builders and even fewer that actually care about the homes they build that the odds that you will be purchasing a poorly made cardboard box for $400K are pretty high…save your money for another year or two and purchase resale.

  • Alexandra

    I currently rent in CityPlace condos.

    We are paying someone else’s condo fees for a pool. gym + spa that were supposed to have been finished this May and have yet to be started due to all the setbacks that have occured. Even if a lawsuit is settled we’ll never see our cash back – it’ll go to the condo’s owner and we’re SOL. Building management has put hideous black netting on our balcony glass, secured with zipties, that block our view and collect all sorts of fluff. They wont begin constructing these amenities until our joining building is built. We chose this condo based on the promise of these things and are now regretting the higher cost of rent compared to other options we looked into, that could go towards gym fees!

    We’re extremly unhappy and are looking to move soon,and are dissapointed at the unfullfilled promises.

    The building is shoddy. Quickly built and poorly constructed without any thought to actually having to live in it. The paint wipes off when you clean the walls, the hardwood buckles and fixtures that should be permanent – especially since we’ve lived here less than a year are loose and wiggly. (and attached to the wall and cannot be tightened).

  • Joe

    I recently bought a condo from Streetcar Developments, and regrettably it’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. Everything that’s been written in this article is true – there is no enforcement of the industry and Tarion is the most useless warranty program to ever exist. Even when you get tradespeople to acknowledge there are deficiencies in your unit (think leaks, faulty sound insulation, broken HVAC systems), the developer doesn’t have to do anything. I would rather rent or save for a small bungalow. Either that or buy from a reputable builder like Tridel.

  • j-rock

    “Toronto has never been a city where people live in tall buildings. A quarter-century ago, in 1986, there were 146 completed condominium developments in the entire GTA. Those were the days of the City of Neighbourhoods: clean, tree-lined residential streets of semi-detached homes with easy access to bustling commercial avenues, rambling ravine parks, schools and libraries, all connected by transit, and all in a major financial and commercial capital.”

    What a load of bunk. While it would be nice if everyone were able to grow up in a stately, century-old home in the Annex, Cabbagetown or The Beach, that’s not the reality for most Torontonians. Did the writer give no thought to the hundreds of rental buildings located in every corner of the city? People in Torontohave been living in tall buildings for a long time now.

  • nevilleross

    We can’t all live downtown and we shouldn’t try.

    Agreed. Half of/most of these buildings could be built in places like North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York, and York without any problem (especially down Sheppard Avenue) without any problem, and be better off there. What’s more, these places are helping to kill off things like the more interesting restaurants, nightclubs, stores, and nightlife that exists in downtown Toronto (and that will be gone due to these; witness what’s already happened to the Entertainment District around Richmond and John-avenues that was once teaming with life but is now completely finished-where will the nightclubs go? To Scarborough and Etobicoke, which are mostly suburbanized districts?)

    We do indeed need a limit on all of this condo development, or the only interesting area of this city-downtown Toronto-will be gone in just under two decades or more, and the tourists won’t be coming here anymore after that.

  • nevilleross

    Frack you, fool.

  • Garrack

    I knew about the falling glass but now they have leaky walls too?! They should just plastic wrap the whole building – a waterproofing in Toronto if you will. Keep things from falling down and leaking out. Yeah, I think that is the best idea to fix this.

  • Alex Holland

    This is not necessarily true.. a lot of us are young professionals who depend on the proximity to the downtown core for work & social life. Corporations’ practises of deceiving & lying to us is hardly our fault, especially for first-time purchasers who hardly know where to begin researching in the first place, even if they do have the sense to conduct some research. We’re not all nearly as affluent or stuck-up as you seem to think, nor do we all have the excess money to dole out without a care in the world due to being lied to and taken advantage of by corporations..

  • Aliengoo

    Great article, not sure what part of this article the province doesn’t get,where an ‘pending early election will sink the condo.review,and nothing will be done to offer consumer protection.Condo owners may have some blame,but you have the 1998 Barrett report,why continue blowing tax dollars on a review instead of acting on making the condo.act enforceable ? This applies to Ontario n 2014,does the government want to bail out the condos: “blamed municipalities for failing to monitor building quality,the province for allowing loose interpretations of the building code, architects and engineers for failing to ensure their designs were properly translated, contractors for passing the buck, unskilled labour for poor workmanship and developers for failing to disclose all information to newly formed condo boards.”

  • Aliengoo

    “Insiders”have the resources to get the vote from owners before challengers do their dog and pony at an election. Insiders can ask the owners for their proxy, campaign in the condo’s public lobby, phone, e-mail owners = incumbent board, or insiders get the open seats. Boards need to be held liable for their actions like breach of trust, government needs to provide an avenue for owners to arbitrate.

  • Aliengoo

    This is a major issue, where the builder’s board can negligently sign off on deficiencies, declarations that mostly serves the developer.Start naming individual board directors in legal actions is the only way to deter the wanton, entitled behavior.Without any oversight of the Condo.Act, some rogue boards function like a “mob.”Other major issue, a builder imposing their own businesses onto a Corporation is a conflict of interest, eg.management company, energy services company, maintenance…

  • Andrew Bordin

    http://doorfilter.com/ all condos need a doorfilter.

 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement