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Six-way stand-off as block stuck in cladding Hell

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Owners in an apartment block in the centre of Sydney are caught in a potentially fatal six-way stand-off as owners, developers, builders and the government battle over who is responsible for the combustible cladding on their high rise.

Now City of Sydney has issued fire safety orders on the Quay in Sydney’s Haymarket, covered in 10,000 square metres of risky cladding, and the block’s insurer is threatening to cancel their compulsory strata insurance unless the apartment owners fix it.

But the developers of the 19-level two-tower, 286-apartment block, which is covered by statutory building warranties, deny responsibility, saying the cladding was not considered unsafe when they swathed the building in it.

And while owners are looking at an average special levy of $70,000 each to replace the cladding, Fair Trading say they won’t issue a definitive list of what should replace it, until next year.

“We’ve had meetings with our building’s engineers and builders and every time they just deny responsibility and this situation goes on and on,’ strata committee chair Tina Murolo told Domain in the SMH and Age last week.

“The last one we had, I lost it and said they had to be joking. How about we all get out and they put their families in here and they see how they feel then?”

The City of Sydney has slapped fire orders on the twin towers for the panels’ removal and replacement, while their insurance company has threatened to cancel its compulsory cover if nothing has been done by November.

Estimates of the cost of the work have now blown out to $20 million – effectively a $70,000 special levy for every apartment owner in the building.

“We have a noose around our necks,” said Ms Murolo, who says she constantly has the Grenfell Tower fire in London on her mind. Seventy-two lives were lost at the tower as a result of cladding spreading fire over its 20 storeys four years ago.

“The NSW government has set up its Cladding Taskforce but that hasn’t done anything for us. The new Building Commissioner is advising everyone against rushing to replace their cladding as they say they can’t give us advice on it until next year.

“But if we don’t start work, we’ll lose our insurance, so what on earth are they saying don’t rush for? We have no choice. I’d like to tell the government that our lives matter!”

The Quay’s owners are preparing to take action in the NSW Supreme Court against the builders and developers but no hearing date has yet been set.

The case, believed to be the first for cladding, is likely to set a state-wide precedent for determining who is responsible for defective materials.

It’s understood that the builders and developers will be arguing that, at the time of construction, the aluminium cladding panels weren’t deemed to be unsafe or defective – and that the ruling that they weren’t compliant with safety standards only came in later.

A spokesperson from the City of Sydney confirmed to Domain that a fire safety order had been issued to the property.

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