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March 2018

Architect contends shortages are inevitable without "substantive changes" to state's Condo Act

Smaller, more affordable condominium units could help solve the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, suggests architect Blaine Weber, senior principal at Weber Thompson. But, he adds, increasing the supply is unlikely without easing the legal risk and uncertainty for developers.

In a guest column in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, Weber references a 2016 white paper by a research associate at the University of Washington's Runstad Center for Real Estate Research. It outlined reasons why most developers are opting to build apartments instead of condos in the Puget Sound region, stating, "to some degree, legal liability for condominium developers" is one factor.

Weber, "a passionate evangelist for in-city living and the design and development of high-rise residential towers," believes of the explanations in that research report, "the legal liability category is the primary reason for the lack of recent condo development."

From his perspective as both an architect and former officer with three high-rise condominium HOA boards, Weber believes fear and greed are driving the world of condominium litigation." Protracted lawsuits can be extraordinarily costly in time and dollars for all parties, he emphasized, suggesting better solutions exist.

Superior solutions Weber listed are substantive changes to the state condo law to mandate alternative dispute resolution, granting a true "right to cure" for any legitimate construction defect, and a warranty insurance program similar to British Columbia's.

"Changes to the Washington Condominium Act are sorely needed to incentivize developers to build more affordable condominiums. As long as the economic opportunity for developing condos fails to offset the risk of 'automatic' litigation and non-meritorious claims, we will continue to see a diminution of this much needed housing stock," Weber stated in his guest commentary.