Tarion Talks Podcast: Episode 3, Protecting consumers through partnerships

In our third episode of Tarion Talks, Laurie Stephens, Tarion’s Director of Strategic Communications, talks with Siloni Waraich, Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement at Tarion and Ian Bulloch, Senior Investigator in Tarion’s Enforcement Department, about how Tarion helps protect consumers through partnerships.

As a consumer protection agency, Tarion is always looking for ways to better protect consumers, and one way we do this is by working with partners in the industry to address critical issues affecting new home buyers.

Partnerships to ensure confidence

For years, we’ve had informal arrangements with organizations like the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, the Ontario Building Officials Association and others to look at specific problems in the industry. These informal partnerships have yielded real results for new home buyers.

Tarion, the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA) and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) are all part of the building, inspection and warranty process that Ontario’s consumers rely on when enjoying their new homes. In that sense, Tarion has always informally partnered with these associations to provide homeowners with a high level of customer service and ensure their confidence in their new home purchase.

Illegal building prevention

The informal partnership with OBOA and OHBA culminated in the Illegal building prevention pilot launched in July 2015. Under the pilot, Tarion, OBOA and OHBA partnered to target illegal builders circumventing the registration requirement by either posing as owner-builders or convincing their would-be purchasers to apply for permits as though they were building their homes themselves.

The pilot and this joint work on illegal building prevention helped to build a strong foundation for future partnerships. Outside of illegal building, the three organizations have also worked together to address topics like radon, soil issues, and six-storey wood construction.

Working together for fast solutions

Sometimes, there is a need to work together to quickly solve emerging issues that have real impacts on consumers. One of the most notable cases of this was the falling condo glass issue prominently featured in the media since around 2011. Once it became apparent that this was more than an isolated incident and involved various building projects by different builders, an expert panel was requested to tackle the problem.

This expert panel was comprised of industry partners like engineers, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, municipalities from across the GTA, building science experts, condo builders and Tarion. The panel requested an emergency change to the Ontario Building Code and the revised standard required glass balcony guards to be both tempered and laminated so they would act like a windshield on a car and stay together if breakage occurred. This was a great example of how all of the parties came together to quickly identify a solution.

Putting new home owners first

We’ve also partnered on seismic issues, where we discovered homes with structural damage due to unstable soils in a particular municipality. Our close partnership with the building department in that municipality helped to expedite the permitting process. The Chief Building Official recognized that evacuating homeowners from their homes, and then following the normal permitting timelines wasn’t necessarily in the homeowners’ best interest. By making an exception and speeding up the timelines, they were able to keep families in their homes while ensuring that timely repairs would also keep them safe.  And that is what the partnership is all about: working together to find solutions that will enhance consumer confidence in the new home building industry.

The risks of illegal building

Our last podcast went into a lot of detail about illegal building – a practice that harms not only consumers but reputable builders as well. Illegal building is when a builder (even one registered with Tarion) begins construction of a new home without enrolling the home with Tarion, and when a vendor/builder who is not registered with Tarion sells a newly built home.

Purchasers of illegally built homes aren’t often aware that they are entitled to warranty coverage until it’s too late.

Illegal building puts everyone at risk, especially homeowners. Purchasers of illegally built homes are often not aware that they are entitled to warranty coverage until it’s too late. Illegally built homes often do not meet Ontario Building Code standards, which can be dangerous for anyone living in the home. Furthermore, illegal builders often ignore other laws like Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, leaving homeowners open to potential liability.

Illegal building also promotes an underground economy and creates unfair competition, while illegal builders damage the reputation of the home building industry.

Illegal building happens all over Ontario. In 2016, Tarion conducted 413 illegal building investigations, had 166 convictions, $488,000 in fines levied, and one jail sentence handed down. Tarion paid out more than $2 million illegal building claims to 88 families.

Preventing illegal building

Part of preventing illegal building is raising awareness of its existence, which is why we work closely with the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, the Ontario Building Officials Association and regional media throughout the province to educate the public about illegal building and how home buyers can protect themselves.

Radon Action Month

November was Radon Action Month, a cause on which Tarion has worked with local industry members and building officials, in several municipalities where they proactively decided to change their construction requirements to help mitigate potential radon issues.

Radon is an invisible, odourless, naturally-occurring gas found in the soil. It seeps into homes through cracks in floors, walls and foundations – access points mainly found in basements. There is no way for a builder to test for radon prior to construction or for them to know if excess radon levels may be an issue. Excess radon levels are warranted by Tarion because of the risk it could pose to homeowners.

If you’re concerned about radon levels in your home, you can test for radon using a do-it-yourself radon testing kit or by hiring a radon measurement or mitigation professional.

That is why it was so important for Tarion to partner with these local municipalities and builders, to ensure that local homeowners were getting consistent information and education on what to do if they suspected excess radon levels existed in their homes, how to get it tested and how to submit a warranty claim with Tarion. The industry partners were also able to share current construction practices and frontline experiences on how to best repair homes with radon.

These collaborative efforts helped local homeowners understand that everyone was committed to making their community to a safe place to raise their families in, and truly enhanced consumer confidence in the new home buying process.

Launching the Ontario Building Partnership

Building upon all of this work through informal partnerships, Tarion, the OHBA and the OBOA recently formalized their working relationship by starting the Ontario Building Partnership. The partners will work together to ensure consistency in education and application of standards cross the industry, to increase professionalism and consumer protection and encourage the continuous improvement of our industry.

The Ontario Building Partnership will prioritize issues that are important to Ontario’s builders, municipalities, and new home buyers.

The Partnership will prioritize issues that are important to Ontario’s new home buyers, builders and municipalities, including:

  • More work on preventing illegal building and broadening the pilot;
  • Improving industry standards with initiatives like:
    • the Construction Performance Guidelines review, which is seeking and assessing input from all stakeholders, including homeowners, builders and other industry stakeholders like building officials and home inspectors; and

Sharing data and claims trends to increase understanding of emerging issues and develop evidence-based recommendations for better construction practices

  • Gaining greater consistency in education and application of standards in the new home industry with initiatives such as:
    • CPG tutorials for builders and building officials,
    • Working together to launch an Industry Education Forum that will include the three partners, other key industry leaders and related trades associations
    • Joint-training sessions on new building code requirements so that all partners receive consistent education and understanding of the new policy changes, and

When we bring partners together to address issues that affect new home buyers, it results in better solutions to problems, better products for consumers and just generally, greater consumer confidence in the new home building industry.