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New initiative to educate buyers on apartment defects
Structural integrity issues at the Opal Towers sparked a NSW government inquiry in 2018. Photo: Shutterstock

New initiative to educate buyers on apartment defects

An education kit is being developed to help apartment buyers identify and rectify building defects, in an effort to avoid the financial distress associated with purchasers being stuck with unsafe and unsellable properties.

An education kit is being developed to help apartment buyers identify and rectify building defects, in an effort to avoid the financial distress associated with purchasers being stuck with unsafe and unsellable properties.

The kit is being created by WA Apartment Advocacy and the building and energy division of Western Australia’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

WAAA has collaborated with a wide range of building professionals on the initiative, including specialists in waterproofing, structural engineering, construction, fire engineering and painting.

The kit is expected to be launched by mid July in WA, with other states and territories to follow in coming months.

WAAA director Samantha Reece said the kit would provide professional expertise for buyers and apartment owners at all stages from purchasing to 10 years of ownership.

Ms Reece said the kit was the result of recent WAAA research which identified a lack of information for buyers and owners on the topic of building defects.

She said water penetration into apartments and structural cracking were two key areas of concern with regards to defects.

“When you go to buy an apartment, you are looking at all of the nice and shiny things - the tiles, the cabinetry, and the floor to ceiling windows,” Ms Reece told Australian Property Investor Magazine.

“What you’re not looking at is the stuff that’s not visible, but which is crucial, and that’s the water membrane.

“If you don’t get the water membrane right, then there is a chance of concrete cancer.

“People want to make an informed decision and they want to make an informed decision from woah to go.”

WAAA is also lobbying the WA state government for a range of other consumer protection initiatives, including mandatory 12 month defect periods, banning combustible cladding and licensing water membrane installers.

“There is no doubt that buyers are wanting to be assured they are purchasing a quality apartment and this education kit will provide them with all the right questions to ask,” Ms Reece said.

“Furthermore, this kit will provide information for the strata lot owners on how to protect their building into the future, thus avoiding additional and onerous expenses as witnessed at Mascot and Opal Towers.”

The development of the education kit follows the NSW state government announcing a new rating system earlier this year, to help regulators identify risky developers and prevent defective apartment buildings being sold to unsuspecting buyers.

In NSW, building defects at the Opal and Mascot towers made national headlines in recent years, with structural issues and cracking leaving apartment buyers with mounting maintenance and repair costs.

It was recently reported that owners of apartments at the troubled Mascot Towers would be asked to sell their properties, with the estimated cost to repair the building escalating past $53 million.

The ratings tool will allow purchasers to evaluate the track record of construction companies, developers, designers and certifiers.

A report on the regulation of building standards and quality disputes was also handed down in NSW parliament late last month, which identified systemic issues in the state’s building and construction industry, as well as a lack of regulation and oversight by the NSW government.

The report documented concerns over flammable cladding, private certification and what role strata committees have in dealing with defective buildings.

For flammable cladding, the report recommended the NSW government follow the lead of Victoria’s state government, which established a $600 million fund to rectify buildings containing flammable materials.

It also found that private certification had failed industry stakeholders, and recommended an inquiry into the NSW government’s reforms to enhance the system.

“Although many blame private certification for the collapse of confidence in the industry, it is important to note that the problems in the industry are much deeper and more fundamental and lie in a widespread lack of accountability or regulation,” report committee chair David Shoebridge said. 

“Fixing only the issue of certification is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation.”

Mr Shoebridge said it was essential that strata committees were given the right tools to deal with the complex issues of building defects, saying a Strata Commissioner should be appointed within the NSW Building Commission to provide support.

He recommended the NSW government to explore new financial assistance measures for owners of strata properties dealing with defective buildings.

“There are a significant number of strata homeowners out there today dealing with the costs of rectifying major defects in their buildings, who have nowhere to turn,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“These problems were created by decades of deregulation by the State Government, which has stepped away from its responsibilities to ensure homes are built to an acceptable standard and are safe for occupation.

“It is not right that the whole of this liability is left in the hands of the innocent homeowners in strata buildings who bear no responsibility for defective building work. 

“Homeowners who are not able to claim under the statutory warranties scheme or the Home Building Compensation scheme have been given no assistance and many face extreme financial pressure for rectifying a defective building.”

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