Author: Alfred Zylyftari, Elsa Kotorri, Denisa Lazi
The damage of the earthquake of November 26, 2019, was nothing compared to the ordeal of events that followed for the building Desla Sh.P.K., L 18, Rruga Vaso Pasha, Durrës. This building is one of the most damaged by the earthquake in Durrës, whose case is still under investigation today. When more than a year has passed, residents still do not know what will happen to their apartments, which they had only recently bought. The issue is still under consideration today, between the firm’s maneuvers to avoid responsibility and the reluctance of law enforcement agencies to point out whether the real culprit of the building damage is the earthquake, or the poor quality of the works.
The construction firm Desla Sh.P.K. did not build the building according to the provided safety parameters as it took an earthquake of only magnitude 6.4 to endanger the lives of residents, while in the documentation, this building was predicted to withstand an earthquake of up to magnitude 9.0. This company refuses to demolish this building, although it has irreparable damage, but it finds support from the responsible state institutions.
From the research conducted and the review of the existing documentation for this building, it results that the responsibilities of the firm towards this building are: non-compliance with the construction permit by building one more floor; the palace has no diaphragm (main columns), the elevator cage is not built of concrete and columns but only of bricks; after the completion of the building, the company failed to obtain the act of qualification from the Municipality of Durrës, without which it cannot be verified whether the building meets the security parameters for living. The paradox in this is the fact that pursuant to the filed documentation, the construction firm is in order, still the reality is different.
Geotechnics of the Building
This building, according to two acts of expertise carried out on 01.12.2019 and 10.01.2020, by engineers of the Institute of Construction, has resulted in no structural damage and in the second it is quoted that the building has no average structural damage (DS4).
Why do these first two acts of expertise have contradictions with each other, and why did the need arise to have more than one expertise performed?! The Construction Institute did not answer this question and did not make available the first act of expertise performed, delegating it as a competence to the Municipality of Durrës.
However, from the investigation carried out and the interviews with engineers who wished to stay confidential, it is claimed that this building has more serious damage related to the supporting structure. Based on the in-depth ascertainment act performed by the Construction Institute dated 07/23/2020, the following is quoted:
“…the parameters for the concrete construction site are: intensity 9.0 points, category III land… and, from the observations and analyzes performed… it results that there are no foundations that can negatively affect the work of the superstructure. … The foundation meets all geotechnical controls.”
Based on the architectural design (the Municipality did not make the engineering / construction project available even though it was officially requested) the elevator cage was designed with the same material as the building columns (reinforced concrete as is clearly visible in the following blueprint of the first floor.
In fact, the elevator is not built of concrete and there are no concrete columns, as seen in the picture below.
Meanwhile, the construction firm justified this fact with the claim that the elevator cage was built in line with the project, and the blueprint was adhered to by the firm’s instructor and engineers. According to the contacted engineers and from what is witnessed on site, it is clear that the construction company did not adhere to the architectural project.
Referring to the same blueprints above, the building has no concrete diaphragm and the stairs are connected by brick walls to the floor. According to the engineers, this is a mistake during the construction or implementation phase of the project. Furthermore, the flooding of the basement means that no good geological study of the terrain on which it is built has been performed.
The in-depth act of expertise states that the study of soil geology was performed near the building and not exactly in the same place where the structure was built. But, a specific geological study for the land where the building was erected is found in the official file of the building in the archive office of the Municipality of Durrës.
This specific study concludes: (pages 21-22):
“1. The construction site is in relatively poor geological-engineering conditions. ”
“2. In the studied area, there are alluvial deposits, as well as sea-lagoons.”
“4. The groundwater level during the work time met in the interval -1.5m and stabilized at -0.8m (at the time of field works in September).”
“5. During the field works, an old well was found in the studied area, during the opening of the foundations filled with concrete (in the part under the foundation of the building) and then the construction of the foundation of the building might proceed.”
Put simply, the entire building is built on a not very stable terrain and with numerous water sources that traverse it.
Engineers suspect an underground void beneath the foundations and recommend that excavations be carried out, which so far have not been performed or suggested by the Institute of Civil Engineering. In the report carried out by the engineer Dhimitër Papa, who cites the damages of the building and defined them as “moderate”, he writes: “the stairs have cracks in the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor”.
Meanwhile, the stairs do not simply have cracks, but are completely detached from the supporting structure.
What raises doubts is the fact that in the in-depth expertise act are included only photos of cracked stairs and not collapsed or broken on the ground.
In the report of the engineer Dhimitër Papa, in the same paragraph as above, he writes: “the beams, columns and soles of the structure do not show any visible damage.” In the picture below, it is clear that the beams have visible damage and according to the engineers the part of the beams should be stripped of plastering to check for other damage to the beams. If this is not done, it is difficult to say whether the building meets the safety parameters, they say.
Inclination of the Building
Engineer Dhimitër Papa, in the act of in-depth expertise on page 7, point 5, quotes: “From the observations and analyzes carried out in relation to the joint work of the foundation and the foundation, it results that there are no foundations’s editions that can negatively affect the work of the superstructure. The stresses in the plinth are within the allowable stress limits. The foundation fulfills all the geotechnical controls.”
On page 8, point 9 states: “in the current situation the maximum displacements and deformations of the object result above the norms (defined by Eurocode 8)…”. The building is inclined on both sides and has not maintained its verticality as verified and signed by the topography. As can be seen in the photo, the view of the facade from the east and north has a declination of 20 centimeters and 15 centimeters. According to the engineers, starting only from this value of declination, it is high enough to demolish the building even without considering the other damages of the building. They say that with such a declaration, the reconstruction of the building requires a specialized workforce and an advanced technology that Albania does not have. Even if these technologies were present in Albania, the economic cost of reconstruction would be higher than rebuilding from scratch. As such, in these conditions it is impossible to reconstruct this building.
Legal provisions are left in oblivion during the expertise act
The decision of the Supreme State Audit dated 30/09/2019, “Quality assurance of construction works” for the Construction Institute has highlighted many problems for unqualified staff, substandard equipment / certification, or legal aspects that point out the lack of arranging or giving an account, etc. From what this decision has determined, the incompetence of the Construction Institute for in-depth expertise is clear, among other things, the Institute did not comply with the Decision of the Council of Ministers dated 15/01/2020, “On Conducting In-Depth Expertise in Damaged buildings”. Many of the points that should contain an in-depth expertise provided by this DCM are not included in the expertise of engineer Dhimitër Papa, among which the most important are points 3, 3ci and 3cii (In-depth structural analysis includes geometric and technical update). The inclusion of these points would specifically determine whether the building in question is for reconstruction or rebuilding from scratch. So, the non-inclusion of these points makes this in-depth expertise technically and legally incomplete.
The building bermit left to oblivion
The problems of this building start with the construction permit issued by the former Mayor and the Secretary of K.R.R.T for 1-8-10 floors above ground and one floor underground. Meanwhile, the building actually has 11 floors above ground level, of which only 10 are legal. Even the report issued by the engineer Dhimitër Papa talks about an 11-storey building above ground.
Furthermore, this building does not have a deed of certification as it has not been provided with a permit by the Municipality of Durrës, while the residents possess the ownership certificate from the Immovable Property Registration Office, Durrës. According to sources close to this institution, this building has a documented act of commissioning (testing), but performed by a private engineer, commissioned by the construction firm. An official document issued by the Municipality of Durrës dated 09/29/2020 states: “There is no commissioning act, as it has not been provided with a use permit by the institution of the Municipality.”
Law No. 8402, amended in 2013, Article 13, provides that in order to issue ownership certificates, among other things, it is necessary to deposit the act of testing of the building and the use permit, the latter in absentia according to the answer provided by the Durrës Municipality. The Real Estate Registration Office, in any case, registers the object based on the request of the local government unit. The issuance of ownership certificates for a building, in the absence of a commissioning certificate and a use permit by the Municipality of Durrës, raises suspicions of a legal violation by the IPRO. Asked about the situation, IPRO blames the Municipality of Durrës for confusion in procedures and documentation, without answering the question why this building was registered in the real estate register without the presence of complete documentation.
Residents and their institutional ordeal
The residents who a year ago filed a criminal report with the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Organized Crime and Corruption. The latter refused to review this case and transferred it to the competence of the Durrës Prosecutor’s Office. Since then, the Prosecution is conducting investigations and according to sources close to the Prosecution, the latter has asked the Municipality to suspend the works in order to carry out a new act of expertise. At the end of the investigation, the Prosecution will determine the legal responsibility of the persons or institutions in relation to this case. Residents have also appeared before the prosecution to express their claims and complaints.
From the interview with the residents, they appear revolted and dissatisfied with the Institute of Construction, Durrës Municipality and the Ministry of Reconstruction, as they claim that their building has not been treated according to the relevant laws in force, so these institutions according to them have committed violations of the law. Residents also express dissatisfaction with the lack of information and lack of transparency. One of the residents says: “After many attempts to get information officially, we were forced to intervene through friends. After the employee gave us the document, he asked me not to reveal his name because he would be fired.”
Despite all the problems related to this building, the residents say that they are suffering psycho-traumatic consequences. They have more than a year and a half to wait to enter their homes, and at the same time they are horrified by the fact of a house with cracked beams, weak columns, lack of building diaphragm, excessively high declination, or even security in this palace in the event of a second earthquake. One of the residents says, “I took my little boy in my arms and was going down the stairs in the dark. For a moment my foot caught empty space because there were no more stairs, it was broken, it had fallen one floor below. I do not know how we got out of there alive.” Another resident says: “To whom do we owe our life? The Construction Institute? Dhimitër Papa? The Municipality? Whom? That man should come and tell me you owe me your life.”
Procrastination of this issue from one institution to another for such a long time has tired the residents, but this will not stop them from seeking their right and help from third parties for the protection of human rights, as they claim that their right to life has been violated.
The residents are waiting for the decision of the Prosecution and the of the Durrës Judicial District Court, and if with a court decision they do not get their right, they promise to turn to international institutions. They have also made an attempt to address the international institution “United Nations Human Rights”, which has responded that it will intervene if the Albanian state does not provide a fair solution to this problem. Residents insist on the demolition and rebuilding of this structure from scratch, as plastering and painting of structural damage only turns this building into a decorated tomb for more than 250 people, while the construction company says that 95% of residents can’t wait to get into their homes and there are only 4-5 residents who have made all this mess and demand its demolition. Public institutions have not yet made a final decision on the issue, while aesthetic repairs to the building continue and residents have not yet found a solution more than a year and a half after the earthquake that shattered their lives.