When Municipal Building Inspections are not Enough

By Jeremy Burgess
Categories: Blog, Construction, Litigation

Many people find themselves building a home or making major renovations to their home during their lifetime. Too often, people mistakenly assume that because the home or renovations are done in accordance with architectural plans and within the requirements of the applicable municipality or district, that the home or renovations are sound.

In Little v. North Columbia Construction Ltd., 2015 BCSC 2441 (CanLII) the Plaintiff, Mr. Little, had hired the Defendant, North Columbia Construction Ltd. (the “Contractor”), to construct a snow roof for his mobile home.

The Contractor built the roof in accordance with the architectural design plans, specifications and recommendations of the local municipality. For its part, the Contractor enjoyed a good reputation, had good education and had 15 years’ experience. The local municipality inspected the roof twice and approved its construction.

The Contractor subcontracted work to a third party, Habitech Designs Services (the “Subcontractor”). The Subcontractor had discussions with the municipality’s building inspector in which the building inspector insisted that cross-bracing be added to the roof despite plans being approved for construction without the cross-bracing and such bracing not being required for approval on inspection. The Contractor resisted, in part, on the basis that neither the municipality nor the building code required cross-bracing and, as such (the argument went), the installation of cross-bracing was not necessary for the Contractor to satisfy its construction obligations.

Unfortunately, when snow came, Mr. Little’s roof collapsed. The expert opinion accepted by the Court concluded that the lack of cross-bracing was the proximate cause of the collapse and that the BC Building Code did not adequately address the failure to properly consider structural resistance to lateral loads which was at the heart of the collapse.

The Court rejected the Contractor’s defences, finding that the Contractor was ultimately responsible for the decision to construct the roof in a manner which ignored the necessity of installing cross-bracing.

The Court further found that the Contractor breached its contract with Mr. Little by failing to build a snow roof that was structurally sound knowing that Mr. Little was relying on the Contractor’s skill and judgment in building the snow roof.

Little v. North Columbia Construction Ltd. is illustrative of the fact that municipal building inspectors are generally only required to satisfy themselves that building is occurring in compliance with the minimum requirements of the building code and applicable bylaws. Generally, municipalities are not responsible for ensuring that any higher standard of construction is applied. Despite having approval from the municipality and appearing to satisfy applicable minimal legislative building standards, the roof was still constructed negligently and failed.

Little v. North Columbia Construction Ltd. illustrates that it is important for people to hire competent contractors and to hold those contractors accountable for constructing components in a good and workmanlike fashion. Home owners should be made aware of and keep themselves aware of each subtrade working on their home.

If a contractor or their subcontractors are not constructing a home in a manner which appears appropriate, it is important for the home owner and contractor to have discussions about expectations and the home owner should consider whether they wish to continue their relationship with the contractor. It is important for home owners, contractors and subcontractors to document construction progress and any discussions among each of them concerning the progress and standards of construction expected and executed in the event that issues with construction are discovered down the road.

Although beyond the scope of this article, it is also important to note that if construction required municipal approval is completed in a manner which falls below the minimum standards of the building code and applicable bylaws, there may be grounds to name the municipality in a lawsuit; however, the Local Government Act provides a very finite window in which to put the municipality on notice of the potential suit, failing which, the action against the municipality will be statute-barred. It is important for homeowners to immediately seek legal assistance if they suspect there are issues with their home if a municipality may be named in the potential suit.

Jeremy Burgess is a litigation associate at Pushor Mitchell with experience in construction defects and is able to assist you in your litigation matters. If you have any questions about any construction defects whether as potential plaintiff or defendant, we’d be happy to assist you. Feel free to contact Jeremy in a confidential manner toll free at 1-800-558-1155 or at burgess@pushormitchell.com. You may also contact our construction law group.

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor should be construed as such.