Politics

City Needs to Get its House in Order

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 10, 2007

Is anyone surprised that developer-friendly Hamilton is allowing homebuilders to construct houses without first obtaining a building permit?

According to Steve Buist of the Hamilton Spectator, "A city building department official acknowledges that the practice is contrary to the Ontario Building Code but necessary so that builders can meet deadlines."

Today's Spec editorial firmly states that neighbouring cities Burlington, Guelph and Brantford "emphatically do not allow home construction without a permit. Builders cope with the process and timelines there."

Hamilton turns this on its head, even going so far as to break the law to accommodate our homebuilding industry. In a follow-up article today, Buist quotes Vince Molinaro, president of the Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association, who was eager to distance himself from the practice.

"To be fair, (home builders) put pressure on the city," said Molinaro. "But just because we put pressure on them, it doesn't mean they have to give in to that pressure."

True enough, but it's pretty brassy coming from an organization that has sought and enjoyed tremendous influence and concord with the city.

Hamilton has been run like an old boys' club for too many years. The lawlessness, cronyism, and corruption have strained our credibility, lost us business opportunities and taken a tremendous opportunity cost in healthy, economically sound development.

We've wasted decades on sprawling, business-as-usual growth on easy terms for the homebuilders when we could have been investing in a vibrant, sustainable city that actually pays for itself and serves its citizens well.

Mayor Eisenberger was elected on a wave of disgust with the cronyism that had permeated city business. He needs to move quickly to demonstrate that he is prepared to start airing out the house before we pass out from the fumes.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

17 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Bo (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2007 at 14:23:24

Why are we always putting the onus onto one person, the Mayor? Why do we sit back and state things are wrong, change needs to be made yet nothing is done. We need to stop complaining about the situtation if that is the only action we are going to take. Too many of us feel that once we vote and have elected a Mayor that is all that can be done. This paper is a great way to get the issues out, but unforunitly all to often is the end of the conversation. We are the people of the city, these people work for us. Let's start holding them accountable for their actions. Let's start letting them know that this is no longer acceptable. Write letters, organize a protest, anything to make yourself heard with more than just your vote.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 10, 2007 at 15:32:01

Bo, that's what this website's all about. But you gotta get the word out before you can work for change. It's not like you can can order the permit department to change their policies, only council can do that. If you want change, you start by telling the mayor and council what you want to see.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By bobofett (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2007 at 15:39:04

I think Bo's saying we can't just sit back and wait for the mayor to fix everything like a benevolent dictator.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2007 at 23:02:09

No surprise here either. Every new home in this City is a variation of 15 different models. If you issue a permit for one home and the builder is going to repeat this same model 25 times in the same area, there's little reason to wait for a building permit, it's just a formality!!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By w willy (registered) | Posted April 13, 2007 at 20:56:15

Rules are rules. They follow them elsewhere. Listen to the builder they quote: even he can't believe that the city is such a patsy to the developers.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2007 at 08:53:39

Once you peal back the layers of outrage generated by the homeowner's sensationalized plight the real problem emerges; the builder did a lousy job and tried to cover it up cosmetically to fool the homeowner and Building Inspector Staff.

I'm surprised the builder in question hasn't already called in the Bulldozers and leveled the place, start over and do the job right for the sake of the Industry he represents.

And City Manager Glen Peace had this to say respecting where the onus lies in the lead off position on the letters-to-the-editor pages of the Hamilton Spectator;

http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/...

Take comfort from our building staff

By Glen Peace, city manager The Hamilton Spectator(Apr 14, 2007)

Letters@thespec.com

Re: 'Nightmare home' (April 7)

The safety of occupants is first and foremost in the minds of City of Hamilton building staff when it comes to overseeing home construction. It is important for residents to understand the city's role and obligations against those of the developers and homeowners.

Firstly, the City of Hamilton does not contravene the Ontario Building Code Act, nor does the city allow construction without a permit. About 95 per cent of the time, individuals follow the proper process and receive their building permit prior to beginning construction.

However, there are times when construction does begin without the required permit and without the city's knowledge. There are written city policies and procedures to deal with those times. In 2006, the city issued 208 orders to comply for construction commencing without the required permit out of 4,236 building permits issued.

It is also important to know that if there is not reasonable compliance with issued orders, the city will lay charges against the builder/contractor or homeowner. However, charges may not necessarily be laid against every person who does not comply with an order. Staff will work with everyone involved to remedy the problem before laying charges, while at the same time ensuring that construction is being done within code. The city receives voluntary compliance with most orders, without having to issue a stop-work order. However, even when a stop-work order is issued, there is no guarantee the builder will stop construction; then the city must proceed through the courts.

The Ontario Building Code requires that municipalities perform inspections at specific stages. These inspections relate to structural integrity and safety, and the city does not inspect for workmanship or cosmetics as these are the responsibility of the builder.

It is important to note city inspectors are not on site during the entire construction process, and it is the builder's responsibility to ensure the building is being constructed to meet all aspects of the Ontario Building Code.

Hamiltonians should take comfort in knowing that the city's highly qualified building inspectors work hard to ensure provincial requirements are met or exceeded in ensuring structurally safe homes for its residents.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 19:16:10

Typical bureaucratic response to justified public outrage. They spew out all the rules and regulations and we're all supposed to sit back and say "oh well then, nevermind." If Mr. Peace thinks he can placate us with his defense of the city's building inspectors, he is mistaken. I'm sure the building inspectors are conscientous and conduct themselves professionally. When they're given the chance that is. The problem is not with the inspectors, contary to Peace's little bait and switch, but with the staff who allowed this work to proceed without a permit.

Of course, no self-respecting builder would do such shoddy work even if they are not subject to regular inspections, but as far as I'm concerned, the fault is shared equally between the city and the builder.

Peace also tries to placate us with the little stat that only 208 orders to comply were issued out of 4,236 permits issued. Orders to comply are only issued after repeated complaints by watchful citizens. That 208 is only the tip of the iceberg of illegal work being done in this city. Where I live in Westdale, landlords are constantly converting family homes to multiple resident dwellings without permits and proper inspections. They are only caught when residents notice and care enough to contact the building department, and it often takes several calls to get action. The landlords are then allowed to apply for permits and there is no penalty for doing illegal work. I suppose Peace would see this as "working to remedy the problem before laying charges", but it sends the message that there are no consequences for performing illegal work. And of course, once drywall is up, inspectors are powerless to have it taken down to see if wiring and plumbing has been done to proper standards. There have been two fires recently in student houses where the students have just made it out in time and still there are no penalties for doing illegal work. I suppose someone has to die before the city takes its responsibilities seriously.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Bus Boy (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2007 at 13:25:38

It makes one ache for the future of this city.

Failing to issue a building permit means the construction is not inspected to make sure it is built properly. A cosy relationship with builders may get homes built more quickly, and seems to work fine as long as the builder works to code anyway. But this relationship gets so comfortable, eventually it is abused.

Just as this old town finally starts to grow after a half-century of stagnation, attracting residents to the downtown, we get tagged for this.

Would you buy a new home in Hamilton knowing that the city does not, or at least might not, have inspected that home to assure a minimum standard of quality? It's much safer to make the big investment in surrounding communities that provide assurances these things don't happen there, even if it costs more.

I believe that a reputation for municipal corruption limits this city's development potential far more than the old excuse of unsightly heavy industry.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By ? (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2007 at 02:32:58

Since even Mike Holmes decided that the house was a 'write off' & unfixable, Ontario Home Owner's Insurance should compensate the buyers. However, if no permit was issued, that could/might nullify the Home Owner's Insurance.
(Where was this couple's lawyer? Didn't he do a search for this before they purchased the house?)

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By ? (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2007 at 03:23:43

I absolutely agree with Bus Boy. Who would even consider buying a home, older or new here after reading the Spec. story? There are a lot of other places to buy a home in the Golden Horseshoe, or beyond it. I live here, & after reading that, I would never purchase another home here.

It may have facilitatied the process, but it will damn the whole system.

(The Ont. Gov. seems to disagree that this is quite normal & business as usual.)

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2007 at 08:51:14

Ironically, one of the best ways to get a well-constructed house is to buy an old one (i.e. one built before building codes were implemented) on the condition that it passes a home inspection.

The building codes were theoretically a minimum standard but in practice they're a maximum standard. There's simply no economic reason to build a house to a higher quality than the law requires - and the law requires that a house be built to last 20 years.

That's right: the planned life of a new house is actually five years shorter than the typical amortization schedule.

That's assuming the house is actually built to code, which a certain percentage of even those houses that receive permits are not. It's always a good idea to take anecdotes with a grain of salt, but I know several people who bought new houses and subsequently had ongoing problems with the quality of construction, from shoddy brickwork to poor framing around the windows to one house that settled after less than a year such that they could no longer use their key in the front door.

I would be very interested in seeing a rigorous study of defect or failure rates in new houses. I'd also like to see it plotted over time. My guess is that the failure rate would creep up during years when the real estate market is in a bubble and people are snapping up houses to flip for capital gains rather than to inhabit.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted April 17, 2007 at 12:22:03

Unfortunately buying an old house is no guarantee either. If there have been any updates on it, the chances that those updates were done with a permit and proper inspections are slim. In the case of multi-resident homes or student lodging homes, this creates a potentially life-threatening situation.

When the slimeballs are caught, they don't even get a slap on the wrist, and this appears to be a point of pride for Mr. Peace. When we were putting our addition on, we lost 8 weeks of prime building weather waiting for our permit to come through. Meanwhile, the slimeballs who are caught working without a permit go to the front of the line because the work's already started! Mr. Peace thinks it's dandy that these problems are 'remedied' without laying charges, but it's a slap in the face to law-abiding citizens (ie. homeowners doing home improvements as opposed to builders seeking profits) who are going through the proper channels.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By upcoming (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 07:28:22

Well, it seems like we are in for round 2. Tons of media recently, at the residential survey and the homes, mentioned in spec article in 2007.
lets see what has developed now. This could be the big one.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jb (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2008 at 19:01:34

Stay tuned Friday January 9th at 8:30 pm

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jb (anonymous) | Posted December 30, 2008 at 16:31:53

Watch for the advertisements on TV Monday. Watch Channel 6 January 9th at 8:30 Pm

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jb (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2009 at 22:37:23

The Hamitonians that didnot get a chance to watch CBC Marketplace New Home Nightmares it is going to be on again Friday April 10th at 8:30 pm on cable 6. Sit back and see what goes on. As a tax payer see what you get for paying taxes in Hamilton.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jb (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2009 at 16:21:44

And by the way New Home Nightmares will be running all weekend, and every few months after that, a reminder on how people that were born in Hamilton and raised get treated by every level of government.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds