The Magdalena apartment complex in North Cowichan needs millions of dollars in structural remediation to make it safe to live in and compliant with building codes. That’s according to documents that were filed with the B.C. government’s Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and shared with tenants.
The building’s landlords applied to the RTB in July 2022, to ask that all tenants be evicted in order to complete the repairs and renovations. The documents include new details about structural and plumbing issues in the building, constructed in 2019, as well as the proposed remediation work.
The process to evict tenants will take a minimum of seven more months. The developer, WestUrban Developments Ltd., has offered a free month’s rent and full return of damage deposits to all tenants, including those who leave ahead of formal evictions. However, many tenants say they are struggling to find anywhere else to go. In the meantime, they are living in a building that they fear is unsafe, with ongoing maintenance and security issues, under management they no longer trust.
WestUrban has done work to shore up the concrete slab main floor, and says that the building remains safe to live in until major remediation can be completed. That temporary reinforcement was designed and approved by a third-party engineer. But tenants say they no longer trust the company’s assurances.
“No one should be living like this, in fear of a building collapsing,” said tenant Gordon Griffiths, at a recent barbecue organized by residents to bring forward concerns.
A high potential for ‘sudden and catastrophic failure’
A witness statement from Monique Hebert, director of market assets for WestUrban Development Ltd., shares details from a third-party consultant describing the building’s structural flaws.
The building’s main floor, a suspended slab of concrete, is not adequately reinforced, according to the document. In particular, the strength of punching shear reinforcement is an estimated 42 per cent of what’s required in the 2012 B.C. Building Code. For that reason, “there is a high potential of a sudden and catastrophic failure of this concrete slab.”
The concrete pad footings are also undersized, offering about 67 per cent of the required punching shear capacity.
Further, the plywood-panelled shearwalls, which offer lateral force resistance in high winds or an earthquake, are also inadequate. The detailing of these walls in the design drawings are incomplete and unclear. It is therefore likely that the building fails to meet requirements for lateral force resistance.
WestUrban Developments, which built the building, alleges that these deficiencies are due to improper engineering. It has filed a lawsuit against Krahn Engineering Ltd. for damages. Krahn Engineering has not yet filed a response to the suit. When previously reached by phone, founder and chairman David Krahn declined to comment.
Shelley Cook, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association, attended the tenants’ recent barbeque. She said the association will work with the Municipality of North Cowichan to seek third-party assurances that the building is safe to live in.
“I think what is most troubling to me is the current state of the building,” Cook says. “I have worries for [the residents] all along the way but right now the most pressing concern for me is their physical safety.”
Structural repairs to cost $1.8 million
WestUrban has hired Emperica Infrastructure Inc. to complete the structural remediation. As part of the RTB package, Emperica submitted a letter detailing the needed work, at an estimated cost of $1.8 million. (The Magdalena’s original construction was estimated to cost $7.2 million, according to the building permit.)
The letter lists the following tasks needed to adequately strengthen the concrete slab floor and footings:
- Demolition to prepare for new concrete footings and columns;
- Jacking ceiling of parkade up 10mm;
- Drilling (using a jackhammer) into the parkade ceiling to embed new rebars;
- Installation of structural struts into the ceiling;
- Removing existing fire proofing; and
- Constructing 10 new concrete footings around the existing columns, installing 8 structural bars around each column.
Additionally, the letter lists significant work needed throughout the building’s hallways and interiors in order to reinforce the deficient framing and lateral support.
The proposed work includes installing a continuous vertical rod system through the building, which serves to tie the floors together and prevent shearing in the event of an earthquake. That will involve opening up the drywall in one location, top to bottom through the building. Then the rods must be installed, as well as additional framing to anchor and support the structure.
In addition to installing the rod system, Emperica plans to thicken the existing framing by screwing additional two-by-six lumber to the existing wood frame. “This adds rigidity to the frame, which protects against swaying in the event of an earthquake,” according to the letter. They will also add blocking between joists in the ceiling and the floor.
This work will require accessing the building’s living units. Depending on the layout, the contractor will need to “remove countertops and cabinetry in the kitchen, as well as appliances. Similarly, [they] will need to remove fixtures in the bathroom and other rooms. Drywall will then be opened up, and any electrical in the way of the proposed framing will need to be moved.”
Additional plumbing issues
Other documents in the RTB package describe an unrelated issue with the building’s plumbing. Pipes in the building’s main floor sprung leaks 23 times between March 2021 and Aug. 2022, according to a document that summarizes those incidents.
The water pressure in the pipes is well above the recommended maximum, according to a contractor’s report. And consistent exposure to high pressure “may cause premature oxidization and eventual brittleness.”
Remediating the plumbing issue will require replacing and retesting pipes throughout the building, according to a summary submitted to the RTB by lawyers representing WestUrban.
Anna Stofli lives on the first floor, where most of the water leaks have occurred. She says she’s been going to the doctor with a chronic cough. She fears there may be mould in the building, from improperly remediated floods.
“I’m paranoid when I hear water dripping,” Stolfi says. “I don’t feel safe at all.”
It’s a far cry from three years ago, when she worked near the construction site as the building went up, dreaming of one day moving in.
“It all looked so nice in the beginning and now it’s just gone sour,” Stolfi says. “It’s not a great feeling to be here.”