By Jason Miller
BELLEVILLE – The city’s building department is working in conjunction with a provincially-run agency to stop illegal builds like the dream log home of a Napanee couple bilked out of $850,000 in construction costs and left without a place to call home.
“They left them with the walls of a log cabin, no roof, nothing’s finished, and this was this couple’s retirement dream home,” said Amy Lewis, a senior manager of Tarion Warranty Corporation, an agency backed by the provincial government to undertake a pilot program targeting illegal building. “They had to go back to work because they didn’t have any more money.”
A big red flag is when a contractor recommends filing the building permit in the potential owners name.
“They use things like ‘I only need to be licenced if you build a subdivision’ and ‘I build custom homes’,” Lewis said. “It’s a definite red flag and you should call Tarion.”
Belleville is one of the first municipalities to participate in the program where Tarion provides building departments with a letter that either confirms a builder is registered or provides assurance the home is a bona fide owner build.
Since 2010 Tarion’s enforcement team has opened 25 investigations involving 42 homes in Hastings and Prince Edward counties.
During the same time frame, Tarion’s laid 13 charges and obtained eight convictions including the case of the builders of the Napanee home, who are now appealing the $100,000 fine and 30 day jail term levied against them in 2015 for what was deemed an illegal build.
“That is a good reason why we’ve put in place this pilot program which is not just about enforcing, but preventing it,” she said.
It’s illegal to build a home and sell it without being a registered builder and without enrolling the home under the provincial warranty program.
The city’s chief building official, Ted Maracek, said though it isn’t a huge problem here there have been cases of builders trying to skirt the warranty program or the Building Code, which requires them to be a registered builder.
“It’s those types of scenarios that this pilot program is hoping to vet out,” Maracek said. “At the end of the day we want the customer to end up with a warranted product where the warranty is mandated by the legislation.”
Maracek said the case of the Napanee couple forced out of retirement due to them being duped into thinking they were dealing with legitimate builders is a cautionary tale.
“That’s a horrific story,” he said.
Tarion both licences builders as well as backs up the warranty on new buildings on behalf of the provincial government.
“It’s the builder who offers the warranty, but if something happens and the builder can’t fulfil their obligation then we step in,” Lewis said.
She said many aren’t aware of what they’re entitled to under warranty coverage, which in most cases is spread over a seven year period, with the most comprehensive aspect in the first two years. Years three through seven are major structural defects.
Some buyers who may require fixes within the first few years can find themselves in a major bind.
Problems arising from conducting business with illegal builders range from sub-standard construction, unfinished builds and cases where the builder walks away with deposits.
Under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act, anyone in the province of Ontario who plans to build and or sell a new home must be registered with Tarion and enrol the home. Prior to being granted registration, all prospective home builders are required to successfully complete a technical evaluation based on the Ontario Building Code and undergo a financial viability and business competency analysis.