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© Copyright 2006 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

Even The Kitchen Sink

By Albert Warson

They rarely get caught, but it happens. Half of a four-man gang stealing power and manual tools and building materials from trailers, equipment bins and workers' vehicles last summer in Ontario were caught last September. One of them pleaded guilty in April and was put on probation for a year after awaiting trial in jail since his arrest. The other three haven't yet appeared in court.
But the home building industry isn't relying on police. Bob Finnegan, senior vice-president, Heathwood Homes, says seminars on building site security and theft in recent years are making a difference.
There isn't a building or insurance industry, law enforcement or other source in Canada that will guess at the value of thefts from all construction sites in Canada - unlike the estimated $1 billion a year figure accepted by the National Equipment Register, Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program and the National Association of Home Builders in the United States.
Finnegan notes that "builders are locking doors and storing tools on sites more securely, with reinforced doors and special locks. They're putting GPS tracking devices on major items and using surveillance cameras. Lumber is being stored in more controlled locations, although thefts of whole skids of it are an ongoing problem."
"It's impractical to fence off an entire site," he says, "because buyers and the trades want easy access. Deliveries of fireplaces and furnace burners/blower components are being delivered just-in-time, before installation, and much less so on Fridays," Finnegan says. "Thieves are less likely to go after fireplaces and furnaces if they're installed, but even then they will shut off the gas, disconnect them and sell them off the back of a truck," he adds.
Home builders carry all kinds of insurance, but the value of goods lost to thieves usually doesn't exceed the deductible amounts, and they invariably chalk it up to the cost of doing business.
Theft is far more serious when sub-trades' backhoes and other heavy motorized equipment are stolen. "You don't sell a $100,000 bulldozer to someone down the street. That's a different kind of thief," he says.
There are also more technically proficient kinds of thieves, says Victor Fiume, president, Ontario Home Builders' Association, and general manager, Durham Homes, Oshawa. They are able to separate installed furnaces from ducts, gas and power sources. "They're also taking whole skids of plywood, water tanks, windows and doors, whether they are installed or not, and bathroom fixtures, including bathtubs," he says.
Builders "need to have more frequent security patrols, surveillance cameras and be more aware of people wandering around their sites", he says.
Fiume was perturbed about theft from buildings sites, but also about goods stolen from new home sites and sold, typically, to renovators in the "underground economy", who pay cash and in turn sell them for cash to clients. "Homeowners must suspect something when they are offered a new $2,500 furnace for $1,500, but they don't argue," Fiume says. "They are turning a blind eye to illegal activity in the name of saving a few dollars," he says, "and perpetuating the underground economy."
Peter Simpson, CEO, Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, recalled a case in Vancouver where a backhoe stolen from a construction site was found in a barn by way of a GPS tracking device, but police couldn't prove either one of the families in the remote property were responsible.
He regards fencing, high intensity floodlights during hours of darkness as helpful defenses against theft, and surveillance cameras, although they aren't much help if thieves are wearing hooded jackets, nondescript clothing and using stolen trucks to haul away the goods.
Then there are the people who assume the materials lying around completed but not yet occupied new homes can be picked up. "Some of those people finish their basements a bit at a time with lumber from different sites," he says, "and when they're caught, they're embarrassed to be considered thieves."
HB


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