A Burnaby condominium owner is suing her building’s developer after the ceiling of her unit collapsed in the bedroom above her head while she was sleeping, as well as in the kitchen and living room.
Carmela De Benedetto bought the Juneau Street property for $824,900 and took possession in late July of 2021. The ceiling came down a little over a week later on Aug. 1.
“I’m 66 years old. I don’t need this,” De Benedetto told Global News on Wednesday, her voice wavering. “I don’t sleep at nights.”
On the night of the collapse, De Benedetto said she heard “a big loud noise” and saw concrete dropping “all over the place” in her room. She was recovering from surgery at the time, she added.
“I just jumped out of bed, hanging onto my stitches and ran out to the front door over here,” she said. “I was so shocked and then it started breaking up into the living room as well.
“I ran outside at that point and called the fire department. The fire department came in and were pretty shocked at what they saw.”
De Benedetto said she wasn’t physically injured, but suffered a great deal of trauma.
She moved into a hotel while the condo was repaired, but even after restoration, said she couldn’t move back due to the mental distress. She is still living in a hotel today.
De Benedetto described herself as an emotional “wreck,” with diagnoses of depression, anxiety and insomnia. She said the incident has hampered her ability to enjoy family life, leaving her unable to host dinners and celebrate holidays in her own home.
“I’m a pretty strong person but I’ve never reached this point in my life where I’ve had something affect me like this,” she explained.
“I’m supposed to be retired, I’m supposed to be living a nice healthy life but I’m not.”
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In an emailed statement, the condo’s developer and seller, Solterra Limited Partnership and Solterra Development Corp., said the “technical issue” that caused the collapse was “isolated to this one unit.”
“We immediately made arrangements for alternative accommodations for Ms. De Benedetto and commenced repairs on her unit, which were fully complete by September 15, 2021,” Solterra wrote.
“We recognize the disruption to Ms. De Benedetto and because of this we have continuously sought to resolve the entire matter, including offering to repurchase her unit or provide her another unit in the building.”
Solterra said it has not heard from De Benedetto in more than a year. The company is now countersuing her for what it describes as an “abusive lawsuit” an an “unlawful scheme” to deceive the court.
Global News has reached out to Solterra’s lawyers for comment.
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In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court last year, De Benedetto alleges Solterra should have known, or did know, about the “latent defects” that made her condo unfit for habitation and failed to disclose them.
Even if Solterra didn’t breach its duty to disclose them, it fraudulently misrepresented or concealed the defects, knowing that De Benedetto relied on its representation of the condo in her decision-making, the claim states.
“As a result of the Seller’s fraudulent or negligent misrepresentations, the Plaintiff suffered loss and damages,” it states.
“Further and in the alternative, the Seller’s Representations were false and a breach of the Contract.”
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In a response to that notice of claim, Solterra says De Benedetto’s lawsuit contains “outrageous” and “false and unfounded allegations, advanced in bad faith,” and calls for the action to be dismissed.
The company says it exercised reasonable care and attention in the development of the Juneau Street building, was never aware of any defects, completed repairs to De Benedetto’s unit by Sept. 9, 2021, and paid for her hotel stay of about six weeks while remediation took place.
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It further offered her out-of-pocket expenses and a “goodwill payment” of $50,000, which De Benedetto refused. The response also states that Solterra offered to buy back her unit for the same price she paid for it, or sell her another unit in the building on a higher floor, with higher market value, for a “nominal fee.”
“Ms. De Benedetto expressed her confidence in Solterra’s product and integrity by seeking to obtain the other unit in Solterra’s same development at no cost to her … In the end, however, Ms. De Benedetto was not willing to recognize the cost of the enhanced value for the other superior unit.”
Solterra alleges De Benedetto has also deliberately exacerbated the situation by speaking with media about what happened, launching a “scorched earth” tactic that would cause economic harm to the company. It claims her goal is to “coerce” a settlement she is not owed using legal “blackmail.”
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De Benedetto is seeking general, special and punitive damages from Solterra, plus interest and coverage of her legal costs. The claim states that she incurred hotel and other living expenses as a result of the collapse, which also damaged some of her appliances, furniture and other belongings.
De Benedetto told Global News Solterra reneged on its offer to pay for any food, clothing or anything else she needed immediately after the collapse.
“That was the scariest thing of my life, and to think that one of those boulders could have hit me,” De Benedetto recalled. “I hope it hasn’t happened to anybody else in here.”
She also wants the company to buy her condo back at current market value, rather than what she paid for it at presale. She said she won’t be able to sell it herself, since she’ll have to disclose what happened and no one will want it.
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Wally Oppal, De Benedetto’s lawyer, said his client isn’t trying to turn a profit and just wants to move out of the hotel and “live in peace.”
“She wants to be reasonable. We’re quite prepared to sit down with them and get a reasonable settlement from them and she’ll move on,” he told Global News.
“I don’t think going to the media is legal blackmail … that’s a basic right we have in a democracy,” he added.
Solterra’s countersuit, meanwhile, seeks to have De Benedetto pay for punitive damages, special costs, and damages for abuse of process.
In its emailed statement, Solterra said it is a family-owned business that is “proud” of its reputation and has “total confidence in all of our projects.” De Benedetto’s building, it adds, recently won an award as the “Best Mid-to High-Rise in Canada.”
None of the claims have been proven in court.