You Oughta Sue! Building Designs Gone Wrong

Your brand new custom home comes with a warranty for major defects. You have legal options if your contractor wanders off. Don’t be a victim of building design gone wrong, like these hapless owners.

It Tips, It Falls

The Lotus Riverside complex in Shanghai toppled all the way over on its side, completely intact ( photo). The building failure was traced to excavators who piled up loose dirt beside a creek, despite engineers’ warnings. The riverbank collapsed under the soil’s weight, muddying the ground under the building. One worker died when the massive, 13-storey structure hit the ground.

60° C in the Shade

Architect Frank Gehry creates some fantastical designs. The  armadillo-like Seattle Experience Music Project is a showcase for his incredible talent. Gehry’s $274 million Disney Concert Hall (dwland photo/Pixabay) turned out to be too hot to handle. Intended for a stone exterior, the American architect was forced to step it up after funders were star struck by his metal-clad Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in Spain. The resulting sparkling stainless steel exteriors were blamed for heating up adjacent sidewalks to 60° C.    

Fixing Karma in a Skyscraper 

Feng Shui practitioners believe building design brings harmony and peace. So when the brand new Bank of China by architect I.M. Pei was shot down resoundingly for its gratingly sharp edges (Pei Cobb Freed & Partners photo), HSBC planted two cranes on its roof to defuse the bad energy. Compensating for negativity is nothing new in Chinese culture. Hong Kong architects carve “dragon gates” (falco photo/Pixabay) in skyscrapers to allow mythical dragons to take flight from their mountain lairs to the sea. Dragons symbolize abundance, strength, fertility and prosperity in Chinese culture. 

Glass Torpedo Bombs in Boston

Bostonians were showered with glass when windows at the John Hancock Tower (Quinn Kampschroer photo/Pixabay) popped their frames. High winds in January 1973, while the 60-storey skyscraper was being built, showered 60, 227 kg each windows onto the street below. With over an acre of the skyscraper’s face covered with plywood where windows had been (Harry Holbrook/Boston Globe), a Swiss engineer was recruited to figure out what went wrong. While checking out the failed bonding material that caused the glass to let loose, he discovered the whole building was about to tip sideways — and installed counterweights to hold it in place. Final bill for window repairs alone: $7 million.

The Bigger They Are…

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas or not. Harmon Hotel by renowned ‘starchitect’ Norman Foster was half done in 2008 when inspectors halted its 49-storey construction due to faulty rebar.  Falsified inspection reports said the structure was safe. It was on the verge of collapse in an earthquake. The dwarfed 28-storey luxury hotel ( photo) remained empty and, like a nasty divorce, tied up in lawsuits. Three million legal exhibits later, the courts agreed the $275 million tower had to go. It was unceremoniously dismantled floor by floor for a whopping $173 million. 

Look Out Below

No engineer would attempt this one. Twitter went viral with an improvised swimming pool on a balcony ( photo). Nothing like putting a really big tarp on your balcony and using a garden hose to fill it with 2,267 kg of water.  

Prevent New Build Disasters 

Before you have a building disaster of your own, make a valid new home construction contract. The Ontario Contractors Association recommends including:

  1. Name and address of your builder (and your own).
  2. The lot description, model number of your home and elevation (where it sits on the lot). 
  3. Attachments and schedules like site plans, drawings, list of specifications such as granite countertops and the design and construction approval process.
  4. What is or isn’t included in the base price.
  5. Extras and upgrades you want by model, brand name, size, colour and price.
  6. Costs if you go over or under budget for items of your choice, such as kitchen cabinets.
  7. Payment method such as cash, mortgage or conditional on financing. What happens if you get turned down for a mortgage — is the contract null and void? is your deposit returned in full?
  8. Whether the contract is conditional on the sale of an existing home or contract review by a lawyer.
  9. When you will pay the contractor. Include the initial deposit, construction advances such as when the home is 75% complete and amount due when you take possession.
  10. A copy of the receipt for your deposit. Include the builder’s refund policy and third-party deposit warranty if the deal falls through.
  11. Total cost, including who pays the new housing tax rebate. Unless you consent to changes or a new price, the Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act requires the final cost, including goods and services, to be within 10% of the estimate.
  12. Start and end dates and what happens if delays occur.
  13. Who cleans up the site after construction is done.
  14. How disputes will be resolved.

Limit Your Financial Exposure

A builder who asks for large cash payments up front can be a red flag something’s wrong. A 10% or 15% initial deposit is enough to get construction going.

New Build Warranty Coverage in Ontario

Your custom home comes with a one, two and seven year warranty from Tarion for up to $300,000 of its value. Coverage is available to licensed, registered Ontario builders only. Always check your builder participates in the warranty program and get two or three references. The Better Business Bureau, Ontario Consumer Beware List and chambers of commerce can have useful information about your builder’s reputation.

Grounds to Sue a Custom Home Contractor

If the warranty doesn’t cover it, you may be able to take legal action against an Ontario home builder for inferior work, misrepresentation or fraud. For example, if a custom home contractor replaces the material you requested with a cheaper product. Ontario courts base their decision on whether your home’s market value was reduced or what it would reasonably cost to make repairs, provided you show actual intent to repair the home.

Review a Custom Build Contract for Errors

Have a real estate lawyer review your agreement of purchase and sale before signing it (or after, if you missed out the first time around). Catching errors before they happen is well worth the small cost involved.

Legal Review of New Custom Build Contracts

Axess Law Ontario can review your agreement of purchase and sale to ensure your contract covers all the bases. Video conference calls are available anywhere in Ontario, 7 days a week, day or evening. Dial toll-free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form to make an appointment. Licensed real estate lawyers can meet with you in person at our Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Ottawa, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices. Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s real estate law services.

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