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NSW unit owners voice anger at industry

A resident of one of Sydney’s several evacuated apartment buildings has broken down in tears before a parliamentary inquiry when describing the uncertainty he and his young family are now facing.

Vijay Vital, who was evacuated from Sydney’s Mascot Towers on June 14, was overcome with emotion when he addressed the NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the state’s building standards on Monday.

Vijay Vital wipes away tears after delivering his opening statement to the NSW upper house's inquiry into the state's building standards.
Vijay Vital wipes away tears after delivering his opening statement to the NSW upper house’s inquiry into the state’s building standards.CREDIT:AAP

“I stand here as a parent as well; my daughter asked me, ‘When can I go home?’ ” Mr Vital said.

The upper house committee heard from several residents affected by mass evacuations in recent months as well as bureaucrats still working to implement laws passed by the government last year.

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‘Breathtakingly irresponsible’: Sydney mayors lash building controls

‘Breathtakingly irresponsible’: Sydney mayors lash building controls

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore says a lack of independent certification has paved the way for buildings “unfit for occupation”.

The lord mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore, has lashed the state government’s regulation of the building industry as “breathtakingly irresponsible”, saying a lack of independent certification has paved the way for buildings that were “unfit for occupation”. (more…)

‘It hasn’t worked’: Premier admits Sydney’s building industry is failing

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the system of regulation in the building industry is not working, after the Herald revealed the evacuation of a third apartment building in Sydney.

As the state opposition called for an immediate response to the growing number of building defects emerging in the city, Ms Berejiklian said she wanted to “assure the community that we know there’s a problem.

Major safety issues at apartment block in Zetland

 

Major safety issues at apartment block in Zetland

1:45

Major safety issues at apartment block in Zetland

Major safety issues at apartment block in Zetland

 

A third Sydney apartment block is now under scrutiny over severe defects and safety issues.

“We know there’s a gap in legislation,” she said. “We allowed the industry to self-regulate and it hasn’t worked. There are too many challenges, too many problems, and that’s why the government’s willing to legislate.”

After the existence of the third multi-storey residential building recently evacuated on safety grounds emerged on Wednesday, the Herald asked each council in Sydney if it was aware of any similar evacuations in the past year.

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Third Sydney unit block abandoned due to building defects

Public confidence in apartment buildings has taken another hit, after it was revealed a block of units in Sydney’s south west was evacuated late last year.

Residents of the 30 loft-style apartments at Zetland’s Garland Lofts were forced to abandon the building after “water damage caused the failure of the internal fire-rated construction throughout several apartments,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said in a statement.

After learning of the evacuation, a City of Sydney officer inspected the building in February 2019 and found that it was vacant and suffering from “extensive and severe water damage”.

A staff member from the City of Sydney then spoke to the building owner “who had engaged consultants to address the issues and make the building habitable again”, the spokesperson said.

But the Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Wednesday that residents have still not been able to move back into the property, roughly five months after the City of Sydney first inspected it.

Garland 204 Pty Ltd was the developer behind the project, according to the SMH.

The company’s directors, Janet Pennington and Phillip Bartlett, notified ASIC on May 19, 2014, that it had appointed external administrators, and the company was officially deregistered on February 19, 2019, an ASIC spokesperson told The New Daily.

Mr Bartlett told The New Daily that an insurance claim related to the water damage had been settled, and that he had a legal obligation to comply with the insurers’ requirements.

“There were a number of parties involved, and I am unable to make any further comment,” he said.

Building defects

The latest revelations come at a time of heightened scrutiny into standards in the construction industry, after the high-profile evacuations of Sydney Olympic Park’s Opal Tower and the Mascot Towers on Bourke Street led to a public outcry over shoddy workmanship.

Builders Collective of Australia president Phil Dwyer believes the recent evacuations and ongoing flammable cladding crisis showed standards had slipped so much that a royal commission was needed to fix the industry.

“Developers will always try to get the most amount for the least amount of money, but cutting corners doesn’t save money – it costs money,” he told The New Daily after the Mascot Towers evacuation.

“We want reform for the building industry, and a short and sharp royal commission.”

Residents of the 132 units in Mascot Towers were evacuated on June 14 after cracks were discovered in the facade masonry and primary support structure.

After being told “there was no money for them” at a meeting on June 20, unit owners agreed to pay an initial $1.1 million to cover emergency repairs.

David Bannerman, principal of Sydney-based strata law firm Bannermans Lawyers, told The New Daily the day after that meeting that, until a thorough investigation had taken place, the owners were the only party that could legally be asked to foot the bill, as the building was too old to fall under warranty.

“Whatever way they go, whenever you’re trying to recover that sort of money, you’ll be in court for a while, because people don’t flash that sort of cash around very quickly,” he said.

High-rise tower defects

Engineers are still investigating the cause of the cracks, and residents have not yet been able to move back into the property.

But the NSW government has since set up an emergency $3 million fund to cover the temporary accommodation costs of tenants and owner-occupiers for up to three months.

Meanwhile, Opal Tower builder Icon revealed in a statement last week that structural remedial works would likely be completed in mid-August, with 63 of the apartments expected to be re-occupied some time in July.

The recent evacuations have put pressure on the NSW government to live up to its promise of implementing reforms recommended by the Shergold-Weir Report in February 2018.

Among other things, that report recommended introducing mandatory registration of all building practitioners and highlighted the privatisation of the certification industry as a worrisome conflict of interest.

In response to that report and growing public distrust in the construction industry, the NSW government announced in February that it would introduce legislation requiring building designers and builders to be registered and appoint a building commissioner to act as the state’s consolidated building regulator.

That legislation has yet to pass, but NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in June that she would hold “everybody to account”.

Mascot Towers owners to pay $1.1m ‘special levy’ for repairs after extraordinary meeting

Residents of the damaged Mascot Towers block are expected to be out of their homes for at least a month, as engineers scramble to determine the cause of cracks to the decade-old building.

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Apartment Owners Face Potential Ruin

LESS than a week after the Mascot Towers evacuation, a joint report by Deakin and Griffith universities has revealed defects in 85% of apartment buildings such as cracking, dangerous cladding or other fire safety breaches, threatening lives and potentially putting unaware owners and investors hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket. (more…)

WA – Elizabeth Quay towers plagued by leaks and building defects

Elizabeth Quay towers plagued by leaks and building defects

Mark GibsonToday Tonight
Leaks and building defects have been revealed in Elizabeth Quay’s multi-million dollar apartment complex.

It has been labelled Perth’s most exclusive new address but the multimillion-dollar apartment towers at Elizabeth Quay have been plagued by leaks and building defects, with some owners refusing to move in and demanding compensation.

Buyers started receiving the keys in March, only to discover what they describe as poor workmanship, some listing hundreds of defects in apartments they paid more than $2 million for.

The West Australian has observed internal defects including crooked walls, broken sewage pipes, uneven paintwork and extensive chips, scratches and stains on walls, floors and window frames.

The developer, Hong Kong company Far East Consortium, described the faults as “normal”.

Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.
Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.Picture: Today Tonight
Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.
Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.Picture: Today Tonight

“Minor defects and workmanship issues are an unfortunate reality for even high-quality projects. All defects that have been identified are being fixed,” Far East Consortium’s WA State manager Dan Sweet said.

One owner, who asked not to be identified, described the development as an unfinished construction site. Seven weeks after settlement, the couple are refusing to move in until 200 defects are rectified in their apartment. They intend to seek compensation for thousands of dollars in strata fees and council rates they’re paying for an unoccupied apartment.

The complex is also suffering water leaks in the basement carpark, which a leading Perth engineer described as “avoidable.”

A machine has been brought in to inject a chemical into the cracks, but Peter Airey of Advanced Substructures said the cracking would be an ongoing problem.

Mr Sweet said the remedial works were a “permanent solution”, “minor in nature” and in “no way compromise the structural integrity of the building”.

Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.
Defects at Elizabeth Quay Towers.Picture: Today Tonight

International engineering firm WSP, which worked on The Towers at Elizabeth Quay, was also responsible for work at the Opal Tower in Sydney. Residents there were forced to evacuate when extensive cracking appeared at Christmas.

An investigation found design and construction faults. There is no suggestion Elizabeth Quay residents face any danger.

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Apartment owner accuses ACT government of lax approach to regulating building quality

The ACT government’s lax approach to regulating building quality has “emboldened” developers, builders and contractors to cut corners and deliver substandard work, an Assembly inquiry has heard.

Access Canberra has also been accused of being a “friend of industry” rather than a “feared regulator”, as the government agency came under fire during the second day of public hearings at the ACT Assembly’s building quality inquiry.

Kingston Place resident John Grant, who appeared at the ACT Assembly's building quality inquiry on Wednesday. Picture: Jamila Toderas

 Kingston Place resident John Grant, who appeared at the ACT Assembly’s building quality inquiry on Wednesday. Picture: Jamila Toderas

The inquiry was ordered amid widespread community and industry concerns about the standard of building work during Canberra’s construction boom.
John Grant, a former chief executive of the Australian Building Codes Board, appeared at Wednesday’s hearing to detail his experience with what he described as “third-world practices” in construction and government enforcement of regulation in the ACT.

Mr Grant said Kingston Place owners had spent about $250,000 on expert reports and almost $400,000 on legal fees since 2014. The owners agreed to pay a levy on top of their strata fees to help fund the legal costs.

He told the hearing that money, time and considerable stress could have been saved had the developer and Access Canberra taken “prompt action” to rectify the problems when they were first identified.

Owners lodged a formal complaint with Access Canberra in August 2016, and Mr Grant said the regulator had twice stated that it intended to order the developer to fix the alleged defects,

Mr Grant said that never eventuated, meaning owners were left with “no other option” but to launch legal action. The proceedings are ongoing.

“This lack of action by the ACT government in responding to the problems and the many reviews that have taken place has merely emboldened shoddy builders, developers and tradespersons in the ACT,” Mr Grant said.

“The defects exist because those responsible for its construction and assuring compliance with the ACT government’s regulatory framework failed to deliver to the standards expected by the ACT community.”

Mr Grant said Access Canberra needed to be more aggressive in enforcing standards and punishing substandard work.

“The regulator cannot be a friend of the industry, it must be prepared to enforce,” he said.

“Access Canberra has to become a feared regulator. That doesn’t mean it has to be overzealous, but it means that shoddy builders need to know that if they are building shoddy buildings then they will be in the gun.”

Minister for Building Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay did not respond directly to Mr Grant’s comments, but defended Access Canberra’s approach to regulation and enforcement.

The government has ramped up enforcement activity since the start of the year, including temporarily shutting down 32 building sites across Canberra.

“Each regulatory intervention by the regulator has an immediate impact on not only improving building quality through issues being rectified but also on hitting industry where it hurts – financially through mandatory rectification works and work stopping on sites,” Mr Ramsay said.

“It also has an important reputational impact.”

Morris Construction Corporation was contacted for comment.

The 100 submissions to the inquiry have laid bare the problems plaguing Canberra’s construction sector, with numerous accounts of structural defects in buildings, delays in constructions and owners being left out of pocket after companies collapsed.

The role of private certifiers has also been called into questions amid concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest.

Mr Grant, who oversaw the introduction of private certification while leading the building codes board, said certifiers should be appointed by Access Canberra, not private builders.

 

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ACT – Building nightmares revealed, ‘Scarred by the experience’

‘Scarred by the experience’: ACT building nightmares revealed

The extent of problems in the ACT’s construction industry has been laid bare, with accounts of shoddy construction work, building delays and owners being left out of pocket by broke builders detailed in submissions to a new government inquiry.

One legal firm said it had advised 80 property owner corporations in relation to building defects since 2010.

Kerin Benson Lawyers said that ACT government inaction effectively meant that apartment owners in buildings above three storeys had “no recourse against their builders whatsoever” to fix defects.

The ACT parliamentary inquiry has received 39 submissions to its investigation into building quality in the territory.

The submissions highlight wide-ranging concerns about a lack of regulation and oversight in the ACT’s building industry.

Detailed in the submissions are numerous accounts of leaking roofs in new properties, extensive construction delays and shock repair bills imposed on owners.

In one submission, Civium Strata division manager Pascal Deschanel listed an extensive number of faults with an unnamed 45-unit apartment block, whose builder and developer were both deregistered following its construction.

Among the defects were “extensive leaking to building and basement areas, rusting to steel supporting beams” as well as “major cracking to [the] basement retaining wall”.

The property owners had “very little opportunity for recourse” because the builder and developer were deregistered, according to Mr Deschanel’s submission.

A number of submissions also raised concern about the prevalence of “phoenixing” in the ACT construction industry.

The practice, which is illegal in Australia, involves a new company being set up to continue the business of another that has been deliberately liquidated to avoid paying its debts, including tax.

In their submission, Natalie Bice and Brendan Pratt explained how their builder went into liquidation shortly after they moved into their property, leaving them to fix more than 60 defects resulting from a shoddy build.

In the meantime, the builder had transferred all of its assets to a new business, meaning the couple could not chase it for compensation.

In another anonymous submission, a property owner said he had tried repeatedly to contact his builder before discovering it no longer existed as a legal entity.

The owner said he had been “scarred by the experience” of buying the “brand-new” apartment in 2013, and has “often hated living in the ACT as a result”.

“Since the serious issue of waterproofing and roof leaks has worsened, we have been living an emotional and financial nightmare,” the submissions read.

“I would urge the committee to consider the impact on my life, the financial stress, and the prolonged emotional affliction of this negligence and lack of accountability.”

Liberal politician Jeremy Hanson is chairing the parliamentary committee investigating the building industry.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

 Liberal politician Jeremy Hanson is chairing the parliamentary committee investigating the building industry. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The ACT parliamentary committee announced in April that it would investigate the territory’s construction industry amid growing concern about the quality of building work in new developments.

Submissions to the inquiry were scheduled to close on Sunday, but have now been extended until November.

A discussion paper prepared by the committee’s chair, Liberal Jeremy Hanson, said as much as $114 million could have been spent fixing building defects in the ACT in 2016/17, based on modelling from the University of NSW.

The paper also noted that Access Canberra received 525 complaints relating to planning and construction laws in 2016/17.

In its submission to the inquiry, Kerin Benson Lawyers said that number was an “underestimate”, given complaints made by owner corporations were on behalf of hundreds of owners.

The law firm also called out a statement in the discussion paper which said “every contract for the sale of a residential building and every contract to carry out residential building work” contains a warranty, unless the work is valued at less than $12,000.

“It is only true of contracts which were entered into on or after August 2017,” the submission read.

“This effectively means that currently in the ACT, no residential buildings above three storeys have statutory warranty protection.

“This means that many larger residential owner corporations have no recourse against their builders whatsoever.”

The legal firm argued property owners should be given “more tools to address building defects”, saying it would make developers and builders far more likely to change their behaviour.

The Owners Corporation Network said in its response that property developers needed to “move away from greed and towards a more balanced approach to the needs of the community”.

An ACT Government spokeswoman said it took the issue of building quality “seriously” and was already introducing reforms targeting dodgy practice.

“Recently, this has included introducing tests for those seeking a building licence, and retesting both those who have substantiated complaints made against them,” the spokeswoman said.

But Master Builders Association of the ACT Michael Hopkins said the ACT Government continued to renew to licences of builders with a “poor building history”.

Mr Hopkins supported a crackdown on “phoenixing”, a beefed-up complaints handling unit and the introduction of trade contractor licensing.

“On a modern building site, most of the construction work is carried out by trade contractors, who, with very few exceptions, don’t have minimum training requirement and don’t require a trade licence to set up business in the ACT,” he said.

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