Between flammable panel-clad high-rises, and crumbling apartment blocks, surveyors and certifiers have had a rough trot in the media in recent months.
But if you are in a brand new unit block – or at least one that’s less than six years old (in most states) – you should be looking for an expert to tell you what’s wrong with your building before the window on defects claims closes.
But can you trust them? And what sort of consultant do you need?
Those were among questions recently sent to the Flat Chat forum and our sponsors StrataAnswers hopped in with comprehensive advice.
For a start, you may need more than one specialist, says Tonya Gibson, one of the company’s directors. For instance, fire safety defects require the services of a fire services consultant while building defects need a different kind of survey altogether.
There are few, if any, surveyors who are experts on all aspects of apartment block defects. Then there’s the reports.
“Your consultant needs to be able to report concisely and methodically,” says Tonja. “Sounds obvious but we have seen reports that do not focus specifically on those issues that are the subject of the warranty claim.
Complicating matters, you may have the same defect repeated in multiple places.
“Your consultant must document each and every one of these instances,” says Tonja, “ as opportunities for claiming a defect as systemic or generic are limited.”
Then there’s the whole question of going to court – which you may have to do if your developer and/or builder refuses to fix the defects.
“Think about whether your claim might have to be litigated,” Tonja says. “The claim might have to be worth a substantial dollar value for this to be even worthwhile. But if it is, you will need a consultant who has had experience giving evidence in court.”
There are few sadder sights than a rock-solid case worth millions of dollars evaporating because the expert witness went to water under cross.
So who do you choose? A well-known firm with a high public profile – and professional fees to match – or an expert in specific areas who comes with a good word-of mouth reputation?”
“Top end of town engineers are not always the best people to identify defects,” says Tonja. “You might well be better off with a building consultant who has had practical experience, especially for defects like waterproofing.”
Then there are other logistical and practical elements to consider.
“Getting access to apartments in a 100-plus unit development can be a challenge,” she says. “There may be instances where your consultant considers that inspection of a sample of units may be adequate, but you need to be prepared to perhaps put multiple consultants through all the apartments, perhaps on more than one occasion.”
But one thing all the experts agree on is that timing is critical. And some developers will down the clock on the deadline for claims – two years for non-critical defects and six for major defects, in most territories.
“We have seen schemes where the developer and builder offer continuous assurances that the defects will be fixed, meanwhile the time window for getting a consultant’s report and lodging a claim gets ever smaller,” says Tonja.
“The time clock for claims on home building warranties starts ticking when the building work is completed, which may well be long before any owner has moved into their apartment.
“If you have any doubts about the timeframe for lodging your defects claim, legal advice is vital,” she adds.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.