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Strata not responsible for mould inside Burnaby apartment: tribunal

A Burnaby apartment owner failed to prove kitchen sink backups that created mould were the strata's fault, according to a ruling by the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal.
A Burnaby owner's bid to have her strata pay for mould in her apartment has been denied by the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal.

A Burnaby strata won’t have to pay to fix a mould problem inside one of its apartments after a ruling by the province’s Civil Resolution Tribunal Monday.

Pauline McCarthy, who owns an apartment at Central Park Place, took her strata council to the tribunal over mould she discovered under her kitchen sink and behind her fridge.

McCarthy argued the strata was responsible because her sink had repeatedly backed up and flooded her apartment and there was a problem with the building’s envelope.

She claimed $5,000 for the cost of fixing the mould problem.

But the strata denied there were issues with the building’s envelope and said the mould was the result of high humidity and a lack of air circulation because McCarthy had removed the fan above her stove.

A family member emailed the strata manager four times between Sept. 23, 2021 and Feb. 17, 2022 to report sink backups in McCarthy’s apartment, according to the Oct. 31 tribunal ruling.

The manager said he forwarded all the emails to the strata council, but there was no evidence it ever responded, according to the ruling, written by tribunal member Kristin Gardner.

“The strata admits that it received (the) emails about the flooding but says Ms. McCarthy should have called a plumber to determine the cause,” Gardner said. “The strata says in the absence of any evidence that the strata was responsible for the sink backing up, such incidents are the owner’s responsibility.”

In the end, Gardner agreed with the strata, saying McCarthy hadn’t provided convincing evidence it was responsible for the mould or sink backups.

“The difficulty for Ms. McCarthy is that she never determined the cause of her kitchen sink backups,” Gardner said. “She says they could have resulted from some issue in the strata lot above hers or from clogged pipes. However, there is no evidence that Ms. McCarthy hired a plumber or had any professional assess why her sink repeatedly backed up and flooded.”

The strata, meanwhile, submitted two reports to the tribunal, one by an engineer who inspected the mould and another from the strata’s plumber who, the strata said, had looked into McCarthy’s reports during its annual sanitary line maintenance cleaning.

The engineer concluded “high humidity from activities like cooking, and poor ventilation from the missing fan, caused the dark staining on the ceiling and mould growth behind the fridge.”

He attributed the mould under McCarthy’s sink to a lack of complete drying after the sink overflowed.

Since McCarthy hadn’t proven the strata was responsible for the sink backups, however, Gardner concluded it wasn’t responsible for the mould resulting from that water damage.

“I find the weight of the evidence suggests that this mould resulted from conditions solely within (the strata unit) that are Ms. McCarthy’s responsibility to maintain and repair,” Gardner wrote.

She dismissed McCarthy’s claim.

The strata had also tried to recoup its costs ($1,785) for the “report on the mould,” but Gardner said the strata hadn’t provided the engineer’s invoice or any other evidence to support the expense, so she declined to order McCarthy to pay.

The CRT is an online, quasi-judicial tribunal that hears strata property disputes of any amount and small claims disputes of $5,000 and less.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor

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