With all the various horror stories of what goes wrong when an apartment catches fire, you would never want to skimp on safety.
But what if you were paying over the odds for safety inspections that were followed by upgrades that you didn’t really need but were recommended by the same people who did the inspection? Oh, and the inspection was compulsory.
A year ago this column exposed the scandal of “embedded networks” – where an infrastructure supplier would do a deal with the developer of a new building to install their equipment for free, provided the developer agreed to dupe the purchasers of their apartments into signing up for an extended and inflated maintenance contract.
Is ”dupe” too strong? Ask the strata managers who are pressured into selling the idea to naïve strata newbies.
Recently, we were told about another way of extracting money from apartment owners, that also may not always be entirely honest.
This potential scam comes under the general heading of “essential services”, which is big business, if the number of companies that have those two words in their title is anything to go by.
Basically, apartment blocks across Australia are legally obliged to have fire safety checks carried out on a regular basis. And let’s face it, this is a good thing because a lot of blocks wouldn’t bother if they didn’t have to, and we can guess where that would lead.
However, as one Melbourne-based reader of the Flat Chat website has reported, this can get very murky when the “essential services” company performing the inspections is also the entity that fixes any faults that are found.
Now, to be fair, most essential services providers are honest and fair.
But then there are others, like the one cited by our Flatchatter, that charges $2000 for changing batteries worth $500 for the back-up fire pumps, a process that takes less than 15 minutes.
Is this a one-off? I’d love to be able to say yes but years ago I was told about a three-year-old building that had a state-of-the-art emergency water pumping system which had one fatal flaw – it wasn’t attached to any water supply.
What makes this even more remarkable was the at the system had been checked and tagged as fully functioning four times every year for three years – a total of 12 inspections – and no one had noticed there was no water in the pipes.
Essential services are for a building what dental check-ups are for people. You might think everything is fine but if the dentists says you need three fillings and crown, who are you to argue?
So when the fire safety inspection company says you need to replace some emergency lighting, who on your strata committee is qualified to question the advice or even quibble about the cost.
Our Flatchatter has suggested that the company doing the inspection should never be the business that fixes the faults they discover. But how long would it be before the “frenemies” in the essential services business started scratching each other’s backs.
To be certain you are getting the best advice you need to find the good operators and the easiest way to do that is to get reliable opinions from other apartment owners who have managed to sort the honest wheat from the exploitative chaff.
Which is just another reason why we should support and join organisations like the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) in NSW. the Unit Owners Association of Queensland (UOAQ), and We Live Here in Victoria.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.