Desperate resident gets the covid reno runaround

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Removing tiles in a different flat from the one in this story

Living with renovations in your apartment block isn’t easy at the best of times, but we put up with it because, in the give and take of strata living, some day you might be the one driving your neighbours nuts with drilling and hammering.

But then the coronavirus kicks in and everyone in Victoria is ordered to stay home, cafes are closed and (at the time of these events) you can only venture out for an hour a day.

Adding insult to injury, when you call the authorities for help, you get nothing, despite the fact that renovations aren’t supposed to be occurring during the lockdown, when people are still in their apartment buildings.

But as our Flatchatter Danny discovered, it’s one thing to have rules and laws, it’s another when your neighbour ignores them, your strata chair refuses to get involved, your strata manager scoffs at them and the people who are supposed to help – the police and Health officials – just shrug and mouth platitudes.

Sue Williams takes up the story for an article in Domain.

Life under lockdown hasn’t been easy for anyone but it became a living hell for a Melbourne couple when a major renovation kicked off upstairs in their St Kilda apartment block, and they couldn’t escape the noise.

The jackhammering, drilling and banging, they say, regularly forced them to leave home and sit in their car to conduct Zoom meetings and get work done.

Complaints to the police and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) became an exercise in finger-pointing with each authority saying the other was responsible and neither doing anything.

Even when the Victorian Government announced a ban on renovations in apartments during the Stage 4 lockdown – unless the entire block had been vacated — it did no good.

And one strata manager told Domain that there are so many loopholes that renovations in apartments are going on all over Melbourne. 

“It’s been so noisy with the crashing and drilling it’s been impossible to work from home and have meetings at home without being disrupted,” said [Flatchatter Danny], an executive with a shipping company. “The DHHS who issued the edict tells you to call the police when you suspect a breach.

“But the police just don’t seem to know about the new rules, or they don’t care. They haven’t done anything to stop the work. What’s the point of having regulations if no one is prepared to enforce them?”

It’s a builder who owns the apartment in the nine-storey block on Victoria Street, Melbourne, where the renovation has been underway since August 5 and confirmed the police have visited.

“They’ve come round twice and said, each time, that it’s fine,” she said. “It’s a building site, with no walls and no power so it’d be dangerous if it were left like that. The DHHS has been involved too and they’ve said the renovation can go ahead.”

The chair of the Owners Corporation, when approached, said, “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

The new “no renovations” rule came in as a result of the imposition of the Stage 4 lockdown when, at first, Melbourne residents were only allowed out of their homes for an hour a day, which has since been extended to two.

It states, ‘Renovations in apartment complexes / strata buildings are not permitted unless the entire property is vacant. A property will not be considered fully vacant if residents are still residing in a separate building on the property to the building where the renovation is being undertaken. Similarly, a residential tower will not be considered fully vacant unless the entire residential tower is vacated.’

There is an exception, however, for ‘emergency’ work to be carried out during this time.

“But how can you start a renovation, rip out everything and then say that’s an emergency?” said Danny. “It makes no sense.

“And in the meantime, we’re having to sit in our car to work just to get some peace.”

He says his partner, who works in private investment, is suffering terribly from the mental stress of all the noise, the arguments about the need to get it stopped and now the endless roundabout when it comes to trying to get action.

A DHHS spokesperson said: Under the First Step of our roadmap, renovations in metropolitan Melbourne in apartment complexes/strata building are not permitted unless the entire property [building] is vacant.”

She said if a breach is suspected, it should be reported to the police.

But when the Victorian Police were contacted, a spokesperson said, “Victoria Police has received multiple reports over the last week in relation to a potential breach of Chief Health Officer restrictions involving a renovation at an apartment building in St Kilda.

“Each report has been assessed by Victoria Police and, as the matter is linked with the business industry, it has been referred on to the Department of Health and Human Services for investigation as per standard process.”

When it was pointed out that each says the other is the right body to take action, the DHHS came back to say it is investigating the matter.

Meanwhile, the strata manager of the St Kilda building, said there were renovations going on in apartments all over Melbourne and residents had no issues with them.

“There are numerous loopholes in the legislation,” he said. “I’m doing a renovation myself in my own apartment block at the moment because I have a staircase that has to be completed because I need to put a safety rail on.

“There no concrete rule. Renovations are a normal process in every tower. It’s a valid point that you’re not allowed to go out for long every day, but it’s not an illegal situation. We’ve done our due diligence as an Owners Corporation.”

2 Replies to “Desperate resident gets the covid reno runaround”

  1. Avatar Jimmy-T says:

    If you want to start a discussion or ask a question about this, log into the Flat Chat Forum (using the link above). More people will read it there and you can more easily keep track of responses.

  2. Avatar Danny D says:

    Just to update. An official from the DHHS contacted us 10 days ago. He was aware of the ‘no renovations in apartments’ rule but was trying to find out where the directive came from. We had to tell him from your Chief Health Officer! On his request we then sent copious evidence of the work going on such deliveries of materials and he said he would get back to us after consulting his legal dept. Despite our messages asking updates we have heard nothing more. My question is, if it is so easy to find a loophole
    round what a reasonable person would consider an unambiguous directive, when is it actually illegal to do a renovation during stage 4 in Metro Melbourne?

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