Strict code obstructs inner-city fix-ups

Worth A Look, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

THE province needs to amend its building code to reflect the realities of inner-city home renovations, a pioneer of the projects said yesterday.

Rev. Harry Lehotsky, head of Lazarus Housing, said strict adherence to the building code makes inner-city renovations too expensive and too time-consuming, sometimes to the point where projects are carried out illegally or abandoned altogether.
“It’s not a real sexy issue but it’s an important issue,” Lehotsky said during a news conference at a Lazarus Housing renovation project.

The project on Maryland Street is being financed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which worked with Lehotsky to produce a report demonstrating the inefficiencies and impracticalities of the building code.
Ignored codes

Using two century-old homes on Maryland Street as examples, Lehotsky said Lazarus Housing deliberately decided to ignore building-code requirements in one home to show the disparity in costs and time. The renovation costs associated with some of the work on one house that did not meet building code specifications amounted to $7,300, Lehotsky said. Work on the house that had complete compliance to the code cost $17,500 and took more than twice as long to complete.

“Yet this house is just as safe and meets the intent of the code,” Lehotsky said of the code-violating house.

Safe, difficult

Lehotsky said he worked with city planning staff on the exercise, both to ensure the work carried out was safe and to prove to city officials the difficulty of applying the code to inner city homes.

Lehotsky and CMHC officials said the study shows the province must amend its building code with a series of provisions that will allow renovators to work on inner city homes in a realistic and cost-effective fashion.

Doug Holmes, manager of the city’s development and inspections division, said there were no building code violations in the project, adding his staff reviewed all the plans to ensure that they met the intent of the building code. Holmes said his staff understand the difficulties of inner-city renovations, adding they use the concept of “equivalencies” — renovation methods that meet the intent of the code.

Holmes said the practice is time-consuming for his staff and delays renovations projects, adding he supports the call for amendments to the building code.

The city has allowed contractors to use equivalencies for older buildings for several years but Lehotsky said civic officials are under increasing pressure from superiors to follow the building code for fear of facing liability lawsuits.

“It’s up to the whim of a building inspector or plan examiner,” Lehotsky said. “If you catch one of them on a nervous day, no way will they” approve the equivalency.

Lehotsky and CMHC have together submitted the report to the Manitoba Building Standards Branch — the provincial body that controls the Manitoba Building Code –and have asked the agency to accept a series of amendments that would make inner city renovations easier to complete.