Toronto Water Unsafe?

And this is news? A Toronto Star Investigation has reported that 13% of homes where water was tested in the City of Toronto have unsafe levels of lead. This may come as a surprise to home owners and consumers, but it certainly isn’t news to the City of Toronto. Any home that is older than 60 years is likely to have lead pipes, either on the homeowner side or the city side, or both. The city was well aware of this but claim that there is no point replacing the city’s pipes if the homeowner doesn’t undertake to do the same. Sounds like a cost-saving measure on the City’s part, but I can see their point. Many homeowners will claim that they can’t afford the expense of replacing the pipes on their end, cited as approximately $3,000. Many reports give the option of getting a filter installed, but no estimate of this cost is provided.

I have three problems with these news reports. One, is that they say the home documentation may reveal whether the pipes have been replaced if it is an older home. My experience is the homes generally don’t come with “documentation”. Some very organized homeowners may have a binder documenting all repairs that were ever done, complete with invoices and warrantees. However, to say that these are few and far between is an understatement. At best, a home inspection may reveal whether the plumbing in a home has been updated. Even then, it is uncertain whether an inspector will be able to tell this without opening walls and/or floors. The only realistic option is getting the free test kit from Toronto Public Health and testing your water yourself.

The second problem is that they do not give people realistic options to remedy the problem. Those who are in a financial position to do so, will. Those who are not, won’t. Some reports recommend the installation of a filter, but the type of filtration system and the cost of it are not estimated.

Finally, politicians are weighing in on the possibility of a subsidy for people who are willing to make this change. I am sure this is great fodder for mayoral candidates and their campaigns, but it will remain to be seen whether these promises have any teeth.

The problem with the suggestion of such a subsidy is how it will work. If it costs $3,000 to replace your pipes, and the City kicks in say $1,000, presuming you can afford and are willing to spend the $2,000, how do you get the subsidy? Do you have to pay the contractor and hope to get it back from the City? And how long will that take? What if you don’t have the extra $1,000 to pay the contractor?

My suggestion for such a subsidy would be organize it with contractors so they apply directly to the City for the subsidy money. There could be a uniform application form that both the homeowner and contractor complete and sign, it gets submitted to the City for approval, and once approval is acknowledged the contractor can do the work and once the work is done, the contractor and homeowner sign off on the work being complete so the contractor can get paid. This may be too much work administratively for the City, but it may make it easier on the homeowner.

The third problem I have is the potential fallout created by this report. The fallout will be that it may have an impact on those buying and selling homes in the City of Toronto. My advice to sellers: have a lead test complete and disclose it to the buyers, make it their issue to resolve. My advice to buyers: if you are buying a home that is more than 60 years old, be prepared to make this retrofit yourself, or ask for the water tested at the seller’s expense from an independent contractor. Then ask your agent to negotiate an adjustment to the purchase price, depending on the results. My advice to realtors: brace yourself for yet another issue to complicate your closings. Your best defence is to educate yourself on the facts, and explore the options so when you are presented