Aimée Nzaba’s family was planning a special celebration for their first night in their new home on Idyllic Terrace.
Nzaba, a hospital nurse who has worked through the COVID-19 pandemic, and her self-employed husband, Désiré Ndongo, had helped design their roomier second home in Ottawa’s Orléans suburb. They were set to get the keys March 1, and planned to camp out that night alongside their two boys in the master bedroom.
“It was our way of celebrating: sleep all four together on the the duvet and eat junk food,” Nzaba said.
But all that got upended on Feb. 13, when the family was thrust into what Nzaba called a “miserable” period of uncertainty.
According to police and court documents, that was the day 35-year-old Kody Crosby allegedly stole water heaters from a pair of homes on Blossom Pass Terrace — only steps away from Nzaba’s new home.
Police say Crosby, whom they knew for having previously broken into other construction sites across the city, left the natural gas supply open. The resulting explosion sent several people to hospital and damaged many homes at Minto Communities’ Avalon Vista development.
Charges against Crosby include criminal negligence causing bodily harm, arson against people and property, and breaking and entering. None of those allegations have been proven in court, where Crosby is next slated to appear on Thursday.
Nzaba says she doesn’t know what to think of Crosby. She’s got problems of her own, like the fact that her future backyard currently faces the scene of destruction.
While her family doesn’t know how badly their house was damaged, Minto has told them it will need more time to get it ready, pushing the closing date to May 10.
“I can’t imagine the anxiety that would go [with] being displaced and [initially] not knowing when you might be back in your home,” said Orléans South-Navan Coun. Catherine Kitts.
When CBC interviewed Nzaba on Thursday, she said the family had taken refuge at three separate places, including the home of a fellow parishioner, because they’d already sold their prior home and their belongings are in storage.
Asking others for help was not easy.
“Every family has its own problems,” she said. “We have [pride] too.”
Since the family hasn’t moved in, their new home insurance hasn’t taken effect.
In the days after the explosion, they asked Minto about the possibility of being reimbursed for unexpected costs like the longer need for storage.
As early as Feb. 17, the day before Ottawa police’s arson unit took over the investigation and the explosion was deemed criminal, the company labelled the event an “unavoidable delay,” according to correspondence Nzaba shared with CBC.
While Minto expressed sympathy for the family’s situation and stated the company offered the family accommodation in one of its rental apartments, a company representative wrote on Feb. 19 that “an unavoidable delay does not mandate a builder to provide delay compensation.”
The family’s request, the representative said, would require Minto to “act outside of what was committed in the agreement of purchase and sale.”
Minto needed to be fair to all its homeowners, the representative added.
“Usually the builder won’t compensate you for an unavoidable delay,” echoed Nadia Condotta, a Toronto-based real estate litigation lawyer.
The company said soon after the explosion that 30 families were living in Avalon Vista when the explosion happened, six were planning to move in that week, and about 100 or so homes were under construction.
Minto offers ‘goodwill’ money
On Friday, Nzaba and her family got an update from Minto, including their revised May 10 closing date.
Police turned the neighbourhood back over to Minto on Feb. 21, allowing them to assess the family’s home. Minto then said it would be offering families some money “as a goodwill gesture to households who fall under the most extreme situations.”
That includes homeowners whose closing date came within less than six weeks of the blast and families whose homes will require so much repair work that their schedule is delayed by six months or more.
“While the circumstance of the explosion is a prime example of the exceptional conditions that trigger an unavoidable delay, and the situation does not qualify for delay compensation … we are volunteering an amount similar to what would be owed if the cause of the delay was within the builder’s control,” the company said Friday.
A cheque for $7,500 will be issued to Nzaba’s family after their closing, Minto said.
Company expediting repair material orders
Ndongo said he still wonders what kind of security Minto had at the site at the time of the early morning explosion.
When CBC has asked about site security, Minto has declined to answer. On March 6, the company directed the question to the Ottawa Police Service, which then pointed CBC back to Minto.
“This is a legal matter in the hands of the authorities,” Minto said in a later statement. “As such we will not provide further comment on it at this time.”
On Sunday afternoon, a security car was keeping watch at the Avalon Vista entrance, and another security car soon came by. At least one surveillance camera could be seen just north of the entrance.
In another statement Sunday on behalf of Minto Communities Canada president Brent Strachan, the company again declined to address the question.
“We know how important a closing date is to a household planning a move,” the statement read. “Currently, we are assessing each home under construction individually, including an additional inspection by a structural engineer.
“Our team is also working with suppliers to expedite replacement materials and reschedule trade partners as soon as possible. Our focus remains on the construction of our community so residents can move into their new homes.”