Thanks to one of my readers for alterting me to this story, which has pundits raining down critiques faster than glass rains down from the condo towers themselves.
My two cents on the topic: condominium developers only care about their defects when the media and city councillors get involved…
“FALLING CONDO GLASS MAY BE UNDERREPORTED, COUNCILLOR SUGGESTS”
By: Carys Mills & Julien Russell Brunet
THE GLOBE & MAIL – August 19, 2011
Worries about shattering glass and exactly whom residents Toronto condominiums should turn to when any structural issues arise kept the phones ringing at one city councillor’s office Thursday.
“It’s brought people out of the woodwork,” said downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Her ward contains some of the five condos that have recently showered some city streets with glass. She called for a broad investigation earlier this week after a woman was injured by balcony glass that fell from the 31st floor of one building.
Since then, Ms. Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) said residents from inside and outside her ward have alerted her to previously unreported instances of glass breaking and other condo problems.
She and her staff fielded about 50 calls Thursday, many of them concerning the glass issue. Some instances of shattering glass had gone unreported because there’s no streamlined process or contact at the city, she said.
“There’s a sense of confusion. When your balcony glass breaks, who do you contact?” she said.
Provincially, Trinity-Spadina MPP Rosario Marchese is calling for stricter condo legislation overall.
“There is a lack of protection for the more than one million condo owners in Ontario,” he said in a statement late Thursday.
The falling glass has sent reverberations through the condo and glass industries.
Barry Fenton, president and chief executive officer of Lanterra Developments, said the company is taking steps to immediately remove tempered glass from its three buildings on Bedford Road, Grenville and Grosvenor streets. Seven of nine balcony-glass incidents that have occurred since last December were at those buildings, according to city officials.
Furthermore, Mr. Fenton said Lanterra would replace the glass with laminated glass, “a better product,” and will use it for all future projects.
All the falling glass incidents involved tempered glass rather than the more expensive laminated glass, which is similar to the kind used in car windshields.
“We’re reacting to an industry issue that has arisen,” Mr. Fenton explained. “We had two ways to deal with it. One was to replace the tempered glass with tempered glass. And the other was to step up
even at our cost.”
While Mr. Fenton said he had yet to receive cost estimates, according to Doug Perovic, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Toronto, laminated glass is 50 to 200 per cent more expensive than tempered glass.
Mr. Fenton said Lanterra would be using Toro Aluminum Railings Inc., the same company that supplied the original glass, to carry out the replacements.
And although the problem of falling balcony glass from Lanterra buildings is “a Toro issue,” he said, “we haven’t lost confidence in Toro as a company.”
The people who supply glass to developers are also grappling with the problem.
“It’s big news around everybody in the industry,” said Frank Fulton, board president of the Ontario Glass and Metal Association. He said it’s unlikely there would be so many incidents unless the glass was attached improperly – with too much pressure on the edges, where tempered glass is weakest.
Glass experts say impurities in the glass can also lead to spontaneous breakage.
Still, Mr. Fulton said it’s “scary” because tempered glass is used so widely due to its low cost. “I would venture to say they’re 98 per cent tempered glass,” he said of balconies and other parts of Toronto building exteriors such as sliding doors. “There’s millions of pieces of them.”
On Thursday, the city ordered that engineering reports from Lanterra and the other developers with falling glass be submitted to the city by Aug. 31, according to Ms. Wong-Tam. Once they’re in, the developers will have 10 days to come up with an action plan, she said, while city staff pore over the reports.
She said there’s still a need to discuss updating the province’s building code and other issues with upper levels of government. On the local level, she said, a central reporting phone line for condo issues should be considered.
While anxieties mount, Prof. Perovic cautions against blowing the problem out of proportion.
“In terms of statistical significance of failure, this is minuscule compared to the number of windows that are made and installed.”
I’ve read about six stories on this subject since I’ve been back, and I’m hoping there is a seventh, and eighth, and ninth…
I’ve long maintained that the state of the pre-construction industry in Toronto is abysmal, as it seems like regulations are lax and developers have free reign.
It’s not so much the quality of the product that I’ve been concerned with, but rather the manner in which developers go about shoving it down buyers’ throats. They all have the same mentality when consumers complain, which is, “If you don’t like it, then I’ll give you your money back.” Of course, every condo purchased in pre-construction in the last decade has had at least SOME increase in value once occupancy takes place (2-4 years later), so no buyer would ever take the developer up on his offer.
As such, consumers are faced with accepting a product that is less than what was promised and what was contractually agreed to, for fear of losing out on the profits that they gained over the years of waiting.
A cynic would say, “Oh poor you! You made all this money flipping a condo, and now you’re complaining about your floors and your bathroom shower?” But that’s too simple an argument. You’d be ignoring the risk, opportunity cost, and foresight of the investor, and taking it for granted.
Personally, I don’t believe the industry will ever change.
I always said that the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t hold a firesale and re-build from scratch unless people stopped supporting them, and although they still sell out (corporations can always expense tickets that aren’t used…), there’s no denying that fan support has waned and brand value has diminished. The Leafs had no choice but to stop chasing the first-round-playoff revenue by sacrificing the future, and actually re-build.
I draw a comparison in this case to the pre-construction industry, as I think that developers will continue to build crappy products and deliver less-than-bargained-for end results, all the while providing awful customer service UNLESS people stop buying pre-construction.
The only other way things would change is if politicians got involved.
If only our elected officials at the municipal, provincial, and federal level got involved!
Imagine if our Premier of Ontario decided to speculate on pre-construction condominiums, and then saw what takes place! I’d like to think that he’s give his head a shake and say, “We’ve got to do something about this!”
Kristyn Wong-Tam has grabbed a few headlines with her comments on the falling glass at Lanterra Developments’ Bay Street project, but will she see this through past the simple repairs? Will she do more than just placate constituents who call her hotline?
Would it be so bold to suggest that a city councillor, with or without any true influence, might see what ELSE condominium developers are doing wrong?
If not, then we’re really never ahead of the curve are we? We’ll just continue to address problems as they occur. Today, it’s falling glass from condo terraces. Tomorrow, it’s falling through the floor of your condo which was supposed to be constructed with poured concrete but the developer subbed-in birch-bark simply because there were no repercussions…
I’m very interested in how this story plays out, and if it actually plays on.
Something tells me that once the good headlines are gone, the story will break apart like a cheap piece of tempered glass…