With the ever-intensifying wave of collapsing buildings, it has become paramount that you note the signs of a possible collapse as you house hunt. It is just as important to note the signs on buildings you do not intend to live in. As a passerby, you could note and report the signs to someone who could help push for a correction fo the issues. Many landlords, when informed, will attempt to cover up the issue instead of acting to prevent a fatal eventuality. Below are some of the signs of possible building disintegration.
Windows, doors, floors, and stairs
In some cases, you may note that the windows and doors seem out of line. It may look like everything is all out of whack. Like nothing is in the right place. You may also note that the door and window frames have separated from the wall. Like they may be standing on their own. This is a sign that the building has shifted. If the slab around the wall or window is coming loose in big chunks then it is the same situation.
Does it seem like the floor is radically sloped or saggy especially in the middle? You can always tell when the slope on the floor is intentional. If it however feels or looks like it may have happened over time then you should be wary of it. It means that the building could be headed for collapse. You should also look at the building from outside. Does it seem like the building is slanting? Even on a slope, the building should still look somewhat straight from outside.
You never really assume that the creaking you hear while you are inside a building is from its impending collapse. You will always assume it is the building ‘settling in’. Whenever there is extreme or even just a little wind or a storm, you will hear the building creak. This is not exactly something you will encounter on the first day. However, you might be lucky enough that there will be extreme wind on the house hunting day. If not, put this on a possible collapse checklist.
This is one of the most widely known and seen signs of building wear and tear. Some cracks may be too small to be worrisome. The thing about cracks though is that they grow wider, longer and deeper. If you walk up to a building with a huge and wide crack right on the exterior wall. This is a big sign of a weak building. You should be just as concerned if you see a crack on the floor of the building. This is especially problematic if the crack runs across the floor and continues on the wall.
Apart from the wall breaking off from the windows and doors, in some cases you will find some parts of the wall plaster slipping off in large chunks then it may be a sign of weakening building quality. You may also notice the interior walls breaking down. If these interior walls break down enough, the supporting structures could be affected and bring the entire building down. This may not be immediate or even quick.
Gaps between floors
In some extreme cases, you will see a slight or large space between the wall and the floor. If the space is too small then it will simply look like a crack. A crack is a good indication of a building’s inability to bear the load of not only the building itself but also the contents of the building. If left unrepaired, these gaps could spread throughout the building and further weaken it.
Have you ever been in a building that seems to be swaying? It may be subtle but you feel it. This is especially common in skyscrapers. That is normal, for the most part. However, if you are in a three-story building and it is constantly swaying at the slightest whiff of wind then you should ask about it. Every building should have reinforcements. The taller a building is the more reinforcements it requires to withstand the force of the wind. If the swaying is coupled with creaks and cracks then the structural integrity may be compromised.
Causes of Building Disintegration
This is one of the most common causes of building collapse. In Kenya, landlords will often start with a two-story building only to add up to it later. If this had not been the plan, to begin with, it means that the foundation had not been appropriately prepared to support a taller building. A building that ends up taller than had been intended causes pressure on the foundation. Cracks form on the foundation and it eventually gives out.
Shortcuts are very common in this town. There is always a person who can provide something at a cheaper price. They might even neglect to tell you that what they are offering is of inferior quality than the standard. Some are informed but still go on ahead to make a wider profit margin than they should. It is no surprise that a person will get unskilled workers to use low-quality materials to build. This is yet another common cause of building collapse in this country. This is further encouraged by the corrupt system that fails to properly police buildings as they come up.
If a building suffered some damage in the past either from fire, water or even earth tremors, then the damage may remain in the structure and only worsen over time. The tremors are not quite common but they do happen occasionally. These events will weaken the skeleton of the building thus leaving it vulnerable. If the landlord neglected to inspect and rectify these issues then collapse is a very probable eventuality.
It is common in Nairobi for a building to be only a few stories high one moment only to come back a year or two later to find that the stories have doubled. It is also common for people who own their own homes to add a floor above them. Many do not go through the required procedure to determine whether the structure of that building is strong enough to hold an additional floor let alone residents. In other cases, a building may be meant or one purpose only to be repurposed without consideration of the difference in load. Different buildings are built at different strengths to withstand different loads.
Who to Report To
The owner of the property is a good place to start. Buildings do deteriorate. In some cases, the landlord may be unaware of these signs. It is only a civic duty to inform them so they can make changes and save people’s lives. Some landlords will, however, use that information to ensure that the authorities do not find out. They will cover up huge cracks and level up sagging floors. They will go the more affordable route of sweeping things under the rug. You should follow to ensure that something was done about the building’s state.
If you do not have access to the landlord or they have turned aggressive at the mention of the signs of disintegration then you could contact the area authority. It could be anyone from the chief to the senator. These are people who could help ensure that the building has been inspected and recommendations made. The same people have the power to ensure that the landlord has done what is required of them if it turns out that the building is weakening.
There is a National Building Inspectorate since 2015. This authority is mandated with the responsibility to inspect all buildings. They look for signs of poor workmanship or weakness. They try to ascertain if a building is strong enough to hold the load it does. They will want to know if a building has been erected using the proper procedures and materials. They will want to know exactly how safe a building is for residential purposes. If signs of a possible collapse are reported to this authority, chances are that they could help.
In this country, we are not always sure of who is in charge of what. However, social media has proven useful in this regard. You could post on social media asking about who should be informed about such a thing in that particular area. If you are unsure that what you are seeing are signs of collapsed but only merely suspect then it is best not to be too specific in public so as not to cause undue alarm.
As a renter in Nairobi and Kenya, it is important to be vigilant and observant. If you are house hunting, do not let the caretaker be brash about the issue you have noted. Do not merely turn away and leave, report the suspicion to someone and have that building inspected. Be your brother’s keeper.