Edmonton homeowners seek recourse over infill woes

A construction site warning sign.
Stock photo by Getty Images.

You finally saved up enough for a down payment and bought a nice single-family home in an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood. Now all you have to put up with is flooding, constant noise and construction debris.

This has been a problem in places like Edmonton, where homeowners are up in arms over disturbances caused by shoddy construction.

There is a recent trend in urban construction called infill, where a new home is built on an old lot and the former structure is removed.

Edmonton is not the only city to grapple with infill issues. Regina residents, are currently debating what kind of look this type of development should take in their city. The concern is the density, massing and height of the planned buildings.

As new housing is constructed on pre-existing lots, people are worried about the appearance of their neighbourhood after the buildings are finished.

In Edmonton, however, worries go far beyond the look of their neighbourhood. During a recent city council meeting, residents complained about being bullied by contractors, flooded basements, cracked foundations, noise, and pollution.

These issues are prominent in many over-populated cities. In 2013, the Toronto Star reported that home-warranty company Tarion recovered a staggering $30 million from builders for poor construction jobs within the last five years.

Tarion monitors the building of new homes and condominiums in Ontario. Every builder in the province must register under the program and are held to Tarion construction standards and timelines.

However, even with a program like Tarion, consumers have complained there isn’t enough transparency about builder’s track records to let them know who is reliable and who isn’t.

There is little recourse for homeowners if the builder has abided by city bylaws and building codes — even if there are home warranty companies in some provinces that will deal with consumer complaints.

There are also private insurers a person can use in provinces that do not have home-warranty insurance. But is that enough?

What this case really demonstrates is that consumers are poorly protected from builders that do poor jobs. This is especially troubling when it comes to speciality urban construction projects such as infill.

As Edmonton City Counsellor Ben Henderson told concerned residents at the meeting: “The city is right now powerless to help the neighbour, except to tell them to get a lawyer. We have absolutely no ability to make [the builders] play ball.”

Something clearly needs to be done to strengthen consumer protections when it comes to home-building projects. That likely means some combination of stricter building codes, mandatory home-warranty companies in every province, and creating new laws.

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