Renovations Beware and Take Extra Care!

As the NBA Championships come to a close, we turn our attention to the many other joys of summer, such as gardening, barbeques, outdoor adventures… and renovations! From weekend projects to monumental ventures, summertime renovations are common amongst homeowners.

Unfortunately, not all renovations go as planned and they can get sidetracked quite easily. It is typically not until the renovations are well underway that structural, or other unexpected issues, are discovered. These setbacks cost the homeowner time and money. Proper planning is crucial and it’s important to always make sure that you hire qualified and experienced contractors to do the job with the appropriate building permits.

Here are some things to keep in mind before you kick off your summer reno:

Occupier’s Liability

In Ontario, the occupier of a property, in this case the homeowner, has a duty to take reasonable care of persons entering and exiting the premises. This is established by the Occupiers’ Liability Act. Basically, you need to ensure people are reasonably safe when they are on your property – this includes times when the property is under construction.

Occupants have a duty to ensure their properties remain reasonably safe before, during, and after renovations, not only for visitors (even unexpected visitors like mail carriers), but also for the contractors assisting with the renovations themselves.

Homeowners are not generally vicariously liable for the actions of independent contractors, however section 5(1) of the Occupiers’ Liability Act requires that the owner exercise reasonable care in the selection and supervision of the contractor, and reasonably believe that they are qualified to do the work.

It’s also important to ensure that you and your contractors are aware of and adhere to all local bylaws during the renovation project, since failing to do so could support an argument that you failed in your duties as an occupier to keep your property in a reasonable condition. For example, By-Law 131-2012 of The Corporation of the Town of Milton requires that,

“Every tenant or occupant of a property shall insofar… comply with all of the standards prescribed in this by-law and shall:

(a) maintain that part of the premises which is occupied or controlled in a clean, sanitary and safe condition;
(b) keep exits from a residential dwelling, dwelling unit commercial or industrial unit clean and unencumbered;
(c) dispose of garbage and refuse into provided facilities in a clean and sanitary manner, in accordance with the provisions of applicable laws of the Corporation;
(d) maintain yards in a clean, sanitary and safe condition and free from infestation insofar as said tenant or occupant occupies or controls said yards and any part thereof.”

Most municipalities post their key by-laws on their websites. It’s a good idea to review the by-laws in your area before your renovation project, and to be sure your contractors are familiar with them as well.

Proper Insurance

If any issue does arise on the property during renovations or otherwise, it is prudent to have appropriate insurance. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) lists six areas of consideration before commencing renovations, they are:

  1. Notify your insurance provider before you begin any renovations. Ensure that your policy is inclusive of the cost of the work being carried out.
  2. Your home’s replacement value may be affected. You have a contractual obligation to report changes to your property.
  3. Vacating your home can invalidate your policy. You have the option to request a vacancy permit from your insurer.
  4. Do your homework on potential contractors. Check qualifications, get references, and ask for proof of insurance.
  5. Get it in writing and never pay cash. Get written estimates, including start and completion dates for renovations, and itemized costs.
  6. Don’t forget your permit. Major renovations may require a legal permit to ensure that the work meets local building codes.

WSIB Clearance Certificate

Effective January 1, 2013, construction businesses need to register with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB). A Clearance Certificate confirms that a contractor is registered with WSIB in good standing. It also provides proof that the contractor has WSIB coverage. A copy of the certificate can be requested at no charge by visiting www.wsib.ca. Before commencing renovations with the services of a contractor, it is always advisable to request a Clearance Certificate. This protects you and the workers.

Be Prepared

Delays during renovations are common and can occur for various reasons such as weather or delayed materials. Be prepared for the “worst case scenario.” Minimize surprises by planning a renovation in advance. Set realistic timelines and discuss reasonable expectations with your contractor. Make sure that you have a detailed contract and scope of work so that there are fewer misunderstandings as the job proceeds.

Check the Reviews

We are in the epicentre of the Digital Age; why not use it to your advantage?

Take the time to consider online reviews of contractors. Do your due diligence and take the time to see how others rate the contractor’s services. Be wary if there are no reviews at all. If the contractor is reputable, they may have provided their services elsewhere in your neighbourhood. Take the time to walk or drive around and view their workmanship.

You may also visit the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization, at www.bbb.org, where consumers may have rated or filed complaints against the businesses.

Conclusion

Overall, homeowners look forward to beginning their summer renovations. It is an exciting time, but remember to take the proper steps and discuss substantial renovations with your home insurance company before the work starts. If you hire a contractor, check to see if they have their own insurance. There’s no harm in keeping a copy of all renovation paperwork, including building plans, receipts, contracts, warranties, and proof of payment.

As always, make sure to read through the contractual agreement carefully!

Acknowledgements to Shilpa Bodalia, Student-at-law with Avanessy Giordano LLP, for the research efforts and co-writing of this blog post.

Michael Giordano
Written by

Michael Giordano is a founding partner of Avanessy Giordano LLP. Prior to establishing his own practice, he was a partner of a prominent personal injury firm.

He completed his law degree at the University of Ottawa. Prior to law school, Michael studied English and Law & Society at York University.

Michael is an active member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA). He was elected Chair of OTLA’s New Lawyers’ Division in 2017 and previously held the Vice-Chair position in 2014 and 2016. Michael was also the 2017 recipient of the Martin Wunder, Q.C. Outstanding New Lawyer Award. In 2018, he was voted onto OTLA’s Board of Directors.

He is a regular contributor to the OTLA blog and has also written articles for The Litigator.