The NSW government’s plans to construct our apartment buildings better in the future, released last week, were met with a universal outpouring of … well … whatever the opposite of excitement is.
“People should feel confident they can enter the housing market in NSW knowing their home has been designed and built in accordance with the Building Code of Australia,” said Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson.
Should they, minister? Will they? One person who’s curbing his enthusiasm is Geoff Hanmer, managing director of architectural consultancy ARINA and an adjunct lecturer at UNSW.
“While we can be thankful something is finally being done, the minister’s assertions are overblown,” Mr Hanmer wrote in an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
“The bill will have no immediate impact on confidence in the building market because it can only begin to apply to new buildings after about 2022 and it will have no impact at all on existing housing stock.
“If recent research by NSW, Deakin and Swinburne universities is accurate, more than 70 per cent of strata units less than 30 years old have defects.”
He has a point. The poor, benighted owners of existing strata units can look forward to being locked into ownership of potentially defective blocks once the new, more compliant buildings of the future come on stream.
Why would you buy an apartment that might be about to reveal its nasty, crumbling secrets – or not, you’re not to know – when there’s a nice shiny new unit that’s actually been checked by someone? Or has it?
“The NSW government’s approach seems to be to ensure that building practitioners, the definition of which does not appear to include developers, should be held accountable for any future problem by making it easier to bring claims for civil damages,” Mr Hanmer wrote.
“This approach is the wrong way around. Ensuring that buildings are built correctly in the first place is more cost effective and less disruptive than fixing them up afterwards.”
What he’s saying is, get it right, right at the start. OK detailed inspections at every stage will cost money and slow the pace of buildings, but surely that’s better than the alternative.
Well, no, it’s not if your state government is happy to take your stamp duty, and has no intention of compensating anyone for the consequences of decades of bad policy and dubious dealings with developers. For them, slowing the building process is a no-no.
Meanwhile thousands, possibly tens of thousands of apartment owners facing huge bills for defect rectification and/or the removal and replacement of potentially fatal flammable cladding.
And, as we have said many times in these pages, the only people ultimately and unavoidably responsible, by law, for the repair, rectification and maintenance of strata blocks are the owners.
“The government needs to develop a policy for rectifying existing defective buildings,” says Mr Hanmer. “There is nothing in the current proposals about this at all.”
OK, but what could the government do? Here at Flat Chat we reckon they should create a task force to hunt down every dodgy developer who ever built a block and then phoenixed into receivership, make the directors personally responsible and then take their mansions and posh cars to pay for the defects they left behind them.
Yes, there would be legal obstacles, but how hard would it be to prove that the worst offenders never intended to build well, and always planned to disappear before any problemes became apparent?
Going after them would raise the revenue to fix the problems and send out a warning to the next generation of crooks and jerry-builders. Too much? Probably not if you are one of the apartment owners who foolishly believed that your consumer rights would be protected by your government.
“Knowing who to blame when something has gone badly wrong is cold comfort,” writes Mr Hanmer. “Just ask the residents and owners of Opal Tower and Mascot Towers.”
You can read his enlightening and revealing piece – including his views on why our Building Codes are inadequate – on the SMH online.