The perils of home construction

Transit Road project in Oak Bay has neighbours on edge

For Harp and Sukkie Sandhu, building a dream home has turned into a bit of a nightmare.

The couple purchased a house on Transit Road last summer. They intended to deconstruct it and build a brand new one in its place. However, things didn’t go quite as planned, and as a result construction is behind schedule and the Sandhus’ relationships with their neighbours have been strained before they’ve even moved in.

The trouble started when an underground oil tank dug up during the deconstruction phase was found to have been previously ruptured.

“When you’re digging into an existing property, you do sometimes find surprises,” Harp said.

A stop-work order was immediately placed on the property until the contaminated soil had been removed and an environmental assessment conducted. The cleanup required a larger hole than had been intended for the new home’s foundation.

The work saw the removal of fences between the Sandhu property and that of their neighbours, which didn’t sit well with some fellow property owners.

“They’ve taken our backyard,” said John Freeman, who lives next door. “They’ve put up a big metal industrial fence, they’ve torn down our cedar fence, and I’m standing at our dining room window looking at about a 30-foot hole.”

But for Freeman, the fence and the hole are only part of the issue.

“Legally, I guess you can do whatever you want when you buy the property.

“But it’s a travesty the way they came in,” he said. “They came in like a bull in a china shop.”

Sandhu paints a different picture.

“When you’re going through a project like this, obviously it’s going to be somewhat disruptive to those around you,” he said.

“I made a point of going to my neighbours on either side, my neighbour behind me, my neighbours across the street … passed on my builder’s card along with my own, saying ‘if there’s any issues, let us know.’”

“We’re not trying to make it adversarial,” added Sukkie Sandhu, “but I don’t know where they’re coming from.”

Freeman and his wife have taken their case to the municipality, but were told all the appropriate permits were obtained, that the oil spill was handled appropriately and that any further disagreement between the Freemans and Sandhus may have to be settled in civil court.

“It is a civil dispute, and so either they come up with an agreement to redo what they’ve had to remove or their lawyers get involved,” said Roy Thomassen, Oak Bay’s director of building and planning.

At this point, the Freemans have not decided whether they will take legal action.

In the meantime, Harp Sandhu said he’s hoping that work will begin on the home’s foundation this week and that the progress will lead to a mending of fences – literally and figuratively.

“I’ve always been friendly with my neighbours (in the past),” he said.

“My plan is to be that way once I move in.”

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