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Case of troubled Langford high-rise heading to civil court

Current owners name various parties, including City of Langford, in suit alleging negligence
Plants languish in the heat outside Danbrook One in Langford. The 90-suite building has been vacant since early 2020 because of concerns about its seismic stability. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Owners of the vacant Danbrook One apartment building in Langford are suing the seller, builder, engineer and City of Langford for damages they claim were caused by negligence.

The building was evacuated days before Christmas 2019, after four months of near-full occupancy, due to “dangerous” structural defects.

Centurion Apartment Properties bought the 90-suite building, Langford’s tallest, in August 2019 and says it was unaware of any structural issues. It quickly filled the building with tenants.

But four months later, the City of Langford revoked the occupancy permit based on recommendations from a new engineering report. Every tenant was required to find other housing.

Centurion says it was blindsided by the move.

Unbeknownst to them – and to the tenants of 86 occupied suites – people had been asking questions about the seismic stability of the building since construction began in 2018. An official investigation by the professional engineers’ association was initiated in 2019, and it was a development in that investigation that led to the occupancy permit being revoked.

Danbrook One in Langford has been vacant since early 2020 because of concerns about its seismic stability. The temporary supports seen here were installed December 2019. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

According to Centurion’s civil claim, an engineer raised concerns about the drawings, saying they weren’t up to code and there were issues with seismic stability. Sorensen Trilogy Engineering was the structural engineer on the project, but Leon Plett, an engineer who had nothing to do with Danbrook, made the formal complaint.

Plett alleged that not only did the plans seem to miss the code, they also looked to have been copied from drawings his firm made for an unrelated building in Victoria. Sorensen told Plett it had a third-party structural review as required, and that the plans were fine. But Plett was suspicious and filed a formal complaint with Engineers and Geoscientists BC in April 2019.

READ MORE: Safety, structural concerns prompt review of 11-storey Langford building

That’s about the same time Centurion signed an agreement in principle to buy the property from Loco Investments, run by Margaret McKay. She’s also a director with Design Build Services (DB Services), a Langford-based firm that built the property.

Centurion talked with city staff before buying the building, and claims that although Langford was aware of the investigation by Engineers and Geoscientists BC, the city said nothing but wrote a “comfort letter” to Centurion.

During the investigation, Sorensen admitted it had not yet gotten an independent review of the drawings, as is required. It then agreed at that time to get one done. In July 2019 that review confirmed suspicions that certain building code requirements were not met.

Centurion alleges that DB Services, Loco Investments and the City of Langford all knew of “dangerous defects,” but failed to tell Centurion or fix the building.

All three parties deny that claim as well as responsibility for any damages suffered by Centurion.

DB Services says Centurion should have done more due diligence, including hiring an independent engineer. It also claims the construction warranty didn’t transfer to Centurion in the sale, so even if there are defects, it’s not their problem.

Sorensen said its contract with DB Services indemnified them against any omissions, and that neither DB Services or Centurion had the required liability insurance, which would have covered Sorensen.

Langford claims it did not know the nature of the investigation or that there was any possible danger until early December 2019, when Engineers and Geoscientists BC told the city that Sorensen’s plans had defects. It advised the city to commission an independent review in the interest of public safety. Langford hired engineering consulting firm WSP to review the building plans and make recommendations for rectifying the defects.

READ MORE: Langford couple out of options, reluctantly moves back into Danbrook One

WSP confirmed there are structural defects that need to be fixed, and recommended temporary structural support until permanent work is completed. On Dec. 21, DB Services agreed to do the rectification work — Centurion claims this was under warranty; DB Services says they expected to be paid for it. Temporary supports were installed in December, but the permanent remediation work was not started.

Centurion alleges that by the following June, DB Services had not begun any more work, and was refusing to do so. Centurion was forced to take on the responsibility to fix the building, which it said would be charged to DB Services.

The lawsuit, filed October 2020 against DB Services, Loco Investments, Sorensen and the City of Langford seeks compensation for losses and expenses on the basis of negligence from each party. The case has not yet been heard in court.

Eventually Centurion issued a request for proposal to do remediation work on the building, and a representative said work is underway, but gave no expected completion date.

Nineteen months after the occupancy permit was revoked, the impressively tall building is still vacant.

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Danbrook One in Langford has been vacant since early 2020 because of concerns about its seismic stability. Temporary supports, seen here reflected in the front door and in the lobby, were installed December 2019. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

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