In a two-part series that was published last weekend, Diana Zlomislic of the Toronto Star reviews the green building landscape in Ontario and concludes that although “[s]hoddy building is not unique to the green sector . . . with governments aggressively promoting green construction and green building still an emerging practice, consumers who opt for more eco-friendly homes and renovations are more vulnerable.” Zlomislic specifically identifies the over $1 billion in financial incentives that have been distributed to date by Canada’s provincial and local governments as having “few quality-control standards to protect consumers from incompetent ‘eco experts’ looking to cash in on the booming [green building] industry.”
For example, Zlomislic tracked down 26 homeowners who paid over $600,000 in deposits to a now bankrupt geothermal contractor. Several of these homeowners saw their energy bills double after the geothermal system was installed, while many others never even received a completely operational system. Among other things, Zlomislic points to the contractor’s rush to sign up customers and capitalize on a $10,000 provincial and federal rebate for qualifying HVAC replacement systems as a basis for the contractor’s misrepresentations.
Of particular interest to us here at GRELJ, Part 1 also identifies a pending lawsuit in the Ontario courts against a developer who converted a century-old building in downtown Toronto into a 4-unit, mixed-use building that was touted as one of the city’s top green building projects in 2006 by Now magazine. In a litigation that alleges fraud, the purchasers of the units seek over $900,000 in damages from the developer for the project’s failure to satisfy certain Ontario building codes, including those for its geothermal system – a highly publicized green selling point for the project.
Part 2 of the series starts out by concluding that Canadian governments “have created what some describe as a ‘Wild West’-like situation by urging homeowners to go green when they renovate or build from scratch. Green government grants and other incentives have boosted the building sector but few guidelines or quality-control standards exist, and those that do are not policed.” In support of her conclusions, Zlomislic profiles a Toronto-area couple who retained an architect that drastically overstated her green building design expertise, recommended a “green builder” for their 2200-square-foot renovation project, and left the couple with a house that’s only 60 percent complete and still contains over 60 individual building code violations.
What I found so interesting about these two articles is that they suggest a different type of risk growing out of government activity, while simultaneously shedding light on how that that activity has created an opaque regulatory structure on both sides of the border. The articles also build on many of the green building-related insurance claims which Frank Musica reported almost 3 years ago at the 2007 AIA National Convention in San Antonio. I also think that the Toronto fraud litigation is a major shot across the bow for owners and other marketing professionals who fail to accurately represent a project’s green features; this is one specific area of green real estate risk which continues to be insufficiently addressed by many industry professionals.
In any event, Zlomislic’s two pieces are must-reads and demonstrate practical applications of the many theoretical green building risk issues which have been discussed here at GRELJ and elsewhere over the past few years. Part one is here; part two is here.