Building may collapse, lawsuit says

A Kamloops condominium owner has filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court in which an engineer warns that a unit at Loma Bella is in danger of collapsing onto Columbia Street.

The notice of civil claim was filed Nov. 25 by Rick McElroy, who owns a unit at Loma Bella, overlooking Columbia Street just west of First Avenue. He is suing National Home Warranty, companies controlled by builder Mike Rink, a property management company, an engineering firm and the building's strata council.

McElroy's notice of civil claim includes an excerpt from an engineering report commissioned by National Home Warranty. The engineering firm, M Milligan & Associates, wrote in September that the retaining and foundation wall "keeps tilting toward the bank that leads to Columbia Street.

"This poses a danger to the condominium resident(s) and the users of Columbia Street. If these repairs do not take place in the near future, a collapse induced by the lateral pressure of the retained soils may take place."

But David Trawin, the City's development and engineering services director, said another engineer has assured them there is no threat of imminent collapse.

"Our engineer feels the building is not in imminent danger of falling. The wall holding it up has moved, but it hasn't moved any more in the past few years."

However, John Drayton, the lawyer acting for McElroy, said Thursday there are serious questions about safety as well as trust in the National Home Warranty program.

"There are four different engineers. I don't think you can say the most recent opinion is the most reliable. There are mixed messages and it doesn't put anyone at ease."

A letter Wednesday written by Jeffrey Locke, the City's lawyer, said while its engineer believes a catastrophic collapse is "highly improbable," there is danger and action needs to be taken.

"Mr. Anderson (Stantec engineer Brian Anderson retained by the City) has reported to the City that it is obvious that the retaining wall has moved and there has been serious structural damage to the building. He also opines that there remains a risk of partial collapse of the building, threatening the health and safety of the occupants of the building."

According to the lawsuit, problems were first noticed in 2007, just eight months after McElroy purchased the unit from companies under the umbrella of Rink's New Future Group.

Sixteen units comprising the complex are constructed on steeply sloping land directly above Columbia Street and the West End residential area.

"It's pretty scary," said McElroy, who moved out of his unit in part due to the threat of collapse.

The 4.3-metre tall retaining and foundation wall, open to daylight above Columbia Street, "has a three- or four-inch crack," he said.

None of the unit's doors facing east or west will close properly.

"That's cosmetic. My concern is load-bearing walls that are twisting."

Contacted Thursday, Rink said he's tried to remedy the problem through an engineering solution, in consultation with the original certifying engineering firm, but McElroy obstructed all attempts.

"Mr. McElroy didn't want us to do the work," said Rink, who blames the problem on an irrigation system that leaked or ran excessively and caused soil problems.

"We hired guys to put in pilings and do the (engineering) work. McElroy chased us away."

But McElroy accused Rink of controlling the strata council, using the 25 per cent of votes he enjoys through ownership of four units in the building.

Rink called the assertion "ridiculous.

"Why would I want to stop it (repairs)?"

According to the lawsuit, the City issued a stop work order on Rink's proposed foundation repair because it was undertaken without a building permit.

The lawsuit is asking for punitive damages. Drayton said problems can occur with any building, but McElroy's faith is shaken in the system.

"What do people think Home Warranty is for but for that peace of mind?" Drayton said.

Trawin said the City will take steps to monitor the wall. It will also take the matter to Kamloops council to determine whether a notice should be placed on title to warn prospective buyers at Loma Bella of the risk.

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