You will be asked, so you need to know

by Paul Cowhig, Advisor, Professional Standards

Many of you likely heard the recent news about the structural engineer who was disciplined for certifying a building in Surrey that failed to meet specific building code requirements related to seismic and wind standards.

It was reported that the engineer cherry picked requirements between the National Building Code and the BC Building Code, depending on which were the least stringent. It appears he took the low road as opposed to the high road.

As a result, he agreed to turn in his license and to not pursue its’ renewal. He’s out of the business.

After a 40-year career, this will likely be what his colleagues, clients and the public remember about his professional reputation. The ripple effect is vast. Property owners are going to question the safety of their own buildings and not just the ones he was involved in, although the owners of those in particular will be the most concerned. His colleagues will undoubtedly have to answer awkward questions and provide extra assurances to their clients. The reputation of the entire building industry suffers to some extent as a result of his actions and the consequences.

This is a great example for us to take note of.

Who knows why he did what he did? That’s not the point. What we need to understand is that, depending on circumstances, every one of us is capable of making a similar error in judgement at some point in time. Factors from a hundred different directions impact our decisions and, on any given day, we may be vulnerable to pressures that result in us behaving in ways we shouldn’t. That’s why we have standards and rules because, sometimes, following the rules protects not only our clients; following the rules protects us from ourselves as well.

So, here’s the current state of affairs. The association of Engineers and Geoscientists BC and the City of Surrey are doing due diligence by choosing to notify the owners and strata corporation before releasing the address of the impacted property more widely. You will need to keep your eyes peeled, it could result in a material latent defect status for the property. It won’t necessarily, but it could. There are a lot of buildings out there that may not conform to current building code standards for one reason or another that don’t result in a material latent defect so we have to wait and see.

Our Board has requested clarification from the Real Estate Council of BC on Realtors’ responsibility in a situation like this one.

In the meantime, your Board has written to the City of Surrey expressing concern for your clients and the need for more information for Realtors to be able to fulfill their obligations. We will keep you informed of any developments or findings that are relevant to your practice.