Leaky Condos – Is that still a thing?

It was called the Leaky Condo Crisis. It’s far enough in the past now that we’re noticing some of our clients have never really heard of it. I don’t blame them. They were just kids at the time.

You can hear the full discussion on our podcast Multiple Offers: A Real Estate Show. Listen using the player below or subscribe to our show on your favourite podcast platform.

The briefest of brief histories on the Leaky Condo Crisis of the mid-90s:

Low rise and high rise buildings in the early to mid-90s were employing a type of siding called “face-sealed stucco” combined with little to no roof overhangs to shelter the siding. An oversimplified explanation starts with the premise that this stucco siding is intended to be 100% waterproof. When it is 100% waterproof, it works great. As soon as it is anything less than 100% (like from a small crack) moisture is drawn into the wall. The persistent rain of our region and humidity provide an environment that gives little opportunity for that wall assembly to dry out. Moisture penetrates deeper and over time causes rot and mold.

We know why it’s happening. We know what style of construction experienced this. It was decades ago. Should you still be worried about buying a leaky condo? The short answer is…..YES!

The government stepped up during the leaky condo crisis and provided various support mechanisms to help correct the problem. The best solution was to strip off all the stucco siding and put on a new exterior envelope with an air gap for ventilation. This is what we refer to as a “rainscreened” building. It has been a requirement since the late 90’s. Most buildings finished in 1998 should be rainscreened and all of them since 1999. Always take a close look if it’s a late 90’s build. Also know that the first iteration of rainscreen was effective but it has since been improved.

Why are some buildings today still considered a leaky condo?

There were some buildings at the time of the ‘crisis’ that noticed no performance issues. Owners and strata council representatives felt the excessive cost of rainscreening was unnecessary. Some of these buildings continue to have no performance issues today. Meaning more specifically that there are no visible cracks letting moisture in, no bulging of the stucco and no signs of moisture issues from inside the walls. If properly maintained those wall assemblies can continue to function for many years to come. A professional home inspector can provide a more in depth analysis for individual buildings you may be considering. Your real estate agent should be able to point out buildings that are considered to have a ‘risky’ exterior envelope.

There are still leaky condos in BC though, right?

YES! There are. We know of a few in New West. The reason why they still exist is because the owners choose to believe the less expensive solution will work. They often echo sentiments suggesting “it’s never been a problem before” and believe that will persist going forward.

The most extreme example is a building most New West agents are familiar with. The strata council has third party reports that ‘read very well’ according to many agents. That means the reports put the building in a very positive light. And the owners, justifiably, want to believe the positive results of those reports. Meanwhile, the building has a number of sections that have had bulging stucco (caused by moisture in behind) that would pop sections right off the building. Those segments have been repaired and rainscreened on an as-needed basis.

The dead giveaway here is that the siding has proven to be vulnerable, and on a number of occasions. It has to be assumed that every section of wall on this building would one day suffer the same fate. As agents we’ve been saying it for years. The owners in that building hate us for it and suggest we are unfair. Well….word on the street is that this building’s time has finally come. It needs a full envelope replacement. The reports ‘read well’ for a while but there is no hiding from the harsh reality of the latest report.

It comes with a hefty repair bill. The good news is that when the project is done we can all start to spread the love for this building and it will be very well received! There are other buildings that were showing no signs of trouble in the 90s but today their days are numbered. And that’s why we still have leaky condos in BC.

Send us a message for our thoughts on any building in New West. We consider some high risk, others medium risk and there are some that have not been rainscreened that we would consider very low risk.