“There is no definition of a bad builder” (!)

The above quotation sounds like it came from a builder lobby or marketing group, doesn’t it? It did not. It came from Howard Bogach, President and CEO of Tarion Warranty Corporation, the licensor and regulator of the building industry in Ontario, the government-designated body responsible for new home warranties and for “protecting new home buyers“.

More concerning is, this was published on Tarion’s website (http://www.tarion.com) in their “summary” of the Annual Public Meeting Question-and-Answer interaction with the public on April 30th, 2014. The question from a consumer was reported to be: “What is Tarion’s definition of a “bad builder”? Answer: “There’s no definition of a bad builder”.

Paying out a warranty shouldn’t shield the builder from accountability for the defect. There are currently many ways crafty builders can get around the Tarion rules and procedures, and avoid paying for defects and having them show up on his Tarion track record. Builders who don’t suffer any consequences for their shoddy building practices don’t have an incentive to stop either. Short-cutting in workmanship and materials, squeezing sub-trades to do more for less, unsupervised or unqualified workers on site, ducking municipal inspections, or Building Code regulations…. the list goes on. But yet we are told Tarion has “no definition of a bad builder“. Just ask buyers of new homes and condos, they’ll define a bad builder for you.

We can understand why some builders don’t want defects listed on their Tarion track records: this would alert the public to their shoddy practices, and put a damper on their future sales. In the words of Tarion’s Mr. Bogach: “We don’t want to take away someone’s livelihood” he explains.  But its ok I guess to put the cost of the  builder’s shoddy work on the back of the new home buyer in many cases?

We’re getting conflicting messages here.  Tarion says it is fundamentally a consumer protection organization“, yet says it has no definition of what constitutes shoddy building, and refuses to publish all the information it has on builder track records for the public to see. Who is this protecting, the builder or the consumer? Transparency in builder records is key to new home buyer protection, since full disclosure enables consumers to make informed choices. These were the words of the Ministry of Consumer Services to the press in July 2013 in the run-up to the 2014 provincial  re-election campaign. Sounds good, but little action to date has matched these words. Premier Wynne, the listing-to-the-people Premier, continues to turn a blind eye to consumer reforms to Tarion.

In most professions the regulatory body defines what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and lets the public have access to this information on its practitioners. Why not in the new home building industry?

Tarion organizes each year a gala event for builders called the “Tarion Awards of Excellence”  where it hands out awards to builders. So they know what an  “excellent” builder is,  apparently, but not a “bad builder”.

What doesn’t make sense is the body responsible for regulating the industry, Tarion, has eight builders out of 13 on its Board of Directors.  Isn’t that like having the big Wall Street investment firms sitting on the industry regulatory board, the “SEC”?  Isn’t that “the butcher inspecting his own meat”? Many powerful industries cannot be self-regulating, especially not ones with an important consumer protection mandate, a monopoly, and a public trust function… with minimal oversight.

Defining “bad building” in the new home building industry is the first step in recognizing it, providing real deterrents to stop it, and eventually clamping down on it. Let’s leave “builder protection” to the large and powerful builder lobby groups, who seem very good at protecting their industry’s interests and privileges. The consumer is the most vulnerable party here, and has been promised “new home buyer protection” by Tarion and the Ministry of Consumer/Government Services.  What are they protecting us against, exactly, if it resists definition?

2 Comments

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2 responses to ““There is no definition of a bad builder” (!)

  1. “We don’t want to take away someone’s (builders’) livelihood” when they don’t do their job properly.
    But what about protecting the homeowners who are making the largest investment of their lives?

    • This is a good question. Its been asked to Premiers Wynne/McGuinty repeatedly by many consumers over the last 5 years. Many new home buyers have lost their homes and experienced real financial hardship due to unresolved new home construction defects. Despite the government’s populist spin “we’re listening to Ontarians”, they prove time and time again they prefer to follow the money.

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