Thursday, June 16, 2016

City Council to review mandatory bylaw for building maintenance

What goes up shouldn’t come down.

In the last few years, there have been several incidents of materials and debris falling off tall buildings, particularly in the downtown core. City of Calgary investigations into these events revealed that there’s more to be done to prevent potentially hazardous situations and protect public safety. That’s why the proposed Building Maintenance Bylaw was developed and will be reviewed by City Council on June 20.

“It’s a rather unique bylaw in that it requires building owners and managers to be proactive in their building maintenance,” says Cliff de Jong, senior special projects officer at The City of Calgary.

“It’s about establishing a minimum maintenance requirement that really does not exist in many jurisdictions throughout North America. It puts Calgary at the leading edge.”

The bylaw is proposed to apply to buildings that are five storeys or higher and 10 years and older, which covers about 600 buildings in Calgary. It requires building owners to complete a visual assessment on exterior walls and roofs every five years and resolve issues that require attention. It is planned to be phased in starting in fall 2016 through January 2021.

“I think this is going to be groundbreaking for Calgary,” says Adrian Breitwieser, a building envelope specialist with Entuitive Consulting Engineers. Breitwieser was a part of the stakeholder working group that helped to develop the bylaw.

The Building Maintenance Bylaw stakeholder working group
“It’s going to become a template for other cities all over Canada. What I hope to see is that the buildings that are in poor condition, and those tend to be the owners that really don’t pay attention to their buildings enough, their condition is going to improve.”

Since early 2015, The City has been working on developing the bylaw with a team of stakeholders, including building owners and managers, engineers, architects, industry associations and affordable housing groups. The goal of the group was to find the right balance between safety obligations and preventative maintenance costs.

“We had to find a middle ground to advance our objective of public safety while aligning as much as possible with current industry practices,” says de Jong.

“The reaction we’ve had has changed over time. So when we initially started the consultation, stakeholders had concerns about the direction we were going.

The committee met frequently and discussed the issues of implementation, what the scope should be, what’s in, what’s out. At the end of the day, The City and our stakeholders are comfortable with the content and the approach we are taking to implement the bylaw.”

Gerry Baxter, the executive director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association, had concerns initially about the cost that the bylaw would place on the members of his association. Now, he’s satisfied that the bylaw will establish a minimum standard for building maintenance without being a burden for owners and managers.

“We all wanted to ensure that our buildings are safe; that nothing is going to fall off the building, where somebody passing by could be hurt. Nobody wants that,” said Baxter.

“The City did a great job of listening and they were able to incorporate a lot of that feedback into the final product. So we started with having concerns at the outset, many months ago, to a point now where we’re actually very pleased with what the bylaw looks like. And I think what we have now is a bylaw that’s going to be workable for everybody. This has been one of the best stakeholder consultations that I’ve been involved with.”

If the bylaw is approved by Council, City Administration will implement an education strategy to inform building owners of the bylaw requirements and develop tools to assist with compliance.

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