Alberta moves to protect Fort McMurray residents during re-building boom
New and amended builder registration requirements could be the ‘new normal’
By John Bleasby
Fort McMurray lies at the centre of the largest new home construction boom in as many as 20 years after wildfires swept through the region in May, according to the Canada Housing and Mortgage Agency and several housing industry analysts. They say housing starts in Canada’s oil industry heartland will soar as large-scale efforts get under way to rebuild, although much of the rebuilding isn’t expected to start until next year.
Building boom could bring problems for homeowners
Therein lies the problem. From the outset, plans to rebuild Fort McMurray after the devastating fires this past May have been the focus of consumer protection concerns. Over 1900 residential units, plus businesses and services, need to be reconstructed. The sheer volume of work required makes it inevitable that non-local firms will be involved in the re-build.
It’s an obvious magnet for fly-by-night builders, renovators, contractors and clean-up firms from faraway places. This is heightened by the fact that many local building and renovation companies have themselves have been put out of business at least temporarily, while at the same time residents want their homes restored or rebuilt as soon as possible.
New and amended regulations now in effect
This is why the Alberta government has stepped in to protect homeowners against shady operators. Effective immediately, several regulatory amendments and one new regulation will now “require builders to complete a builder declaration through the New Home Buyer Registry before they may apply for a building permit in the Wood Buffalo region.”
Danielle Larivee, Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs said in release that the province does not want a repeat of the unfortunate events that occurred under similar circumstances after the 2011 Slave Lake fire, when more than 400 homes were destroyed. Larivee says that homeowners in Slave Lake did not have the support they needed and are today are still feeling the effects of unscrupulous builders and renovators who swarmed the area.
“Following the fires in Slave Lake, many of my friends and neighbours faced tremendous and unnecessary challenges throughout the process of rebuilding their homes,” said Larivee, whose home riding is Slave Lake. “Our government is committed to ensuring this does not happen to Wood Buffalo residents and will support them from start to finish as they rebuild not only their homes, but their lives.”
Jim Revait, CEO of the Canadian Home Builder’s Association-Alberta, in the same release supported the changes while reiterating the importance of putting them into effect. “We have already heard from companies outside of Alberta making unrealistic claims about how quickly and cheaply they can build here. Protecting residents from unqualified and unscrupulous contractors at this critical time should be a priority.”
Allowing homeowners to make a better informed decision
Specifically, any builder operating the Wood Buffalo region planning to renovate or re-build will be required to compete a Residential Builder Declaration form prior to applying for any building permits. These declarations are to include their residential construction history, finances, general information and any outstanding fines or orders. “This information will help Fort McMurray residents make a more informed decision when choosing a builder, and will give them more confidence as they begin the reconstruction process,” said Minister Larivee
A template for consumer protection of the future?
According to the Alberta ministry, this new process is regarded as a first step towards improving consumer protection and could be the new normal across the province. And why not? Given the historically high number of complaints against builders and renovators, the registration of those who wish to participate in the industry is not a licensing burden; it is plain common sense, and should be part of an enhanced consumer protection system in all provinces across the country.
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