Flatchatter saves $25k on fire safety ‘blackmail’

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A Flatchatter has just saved his strata scheme $25,000 – 70 per cent of their fire safety inspection bill – after responding to what they felt were threats and blackmail by the inspectors.

The owners of a small block in Sydney had replaced its fire inspection company (over minor issues) but were taken aback when the new company wouldn’t even look at the certification provided by their previous inspectors.

Surprise turned to shock when the new company said they would need extensive improvements including a raft of previously unreported flaws amounting to $36,000 worth of remedial fire safety work

The company also said they would report them to the local council if they didn’t comply with their recommendations and, if they hired a third-party contractor to do the work, then they would charge them for reinspection to make sure it was compliant.

After reading posts on this website and Nixjet checked the block’s legal requirements against what the fire safety inspectors were proposing.

Then, with the help of their strata manager, the block had the remediation work scaled down to a level where it cost only $11,000 – 30 per cent of the original estimate.

Overcharge

That’s a great result and it all started when another reader complained that it was too easy for fire safety consultants to overcharge when they were the same people who were assessing your compliance. The case cited was in Victoria and it formed the basis of a column in the Australian Financial Review, republished in this website.

That led to Flatchatter “Nixjet” writing to us to tell us about his small, older block in Sydney.

“We had been using the same company for our Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) for years,” he wrote. “They weren’t overly expensive but were reluctant to answer questions when we queried a few items of over-servicing.

“We still got our AFSS every year with no major issues. However because of the lack of customer focus and unanswered questions we changed companies.

Critical breaches

“The new company completed a full inspection and presented a report making sweeping recommendations and advising a number of critical breaches despite the records of the previous company stating otherwise.

“The quoted works were substantial. The new company wasn’t interested in the work of the previous company despite records of works being completed and simply told us that this was their interpretation of the regulations, that they were obliged to inform council of the breaches, here’s a quote and you have 30 days to complete otherwise you’ll be in breach.

“We were further advised we were free to contract their recommended works to other providers but we would still need to pay for a reinspection and their interpretation of the work required under the standards could be different to others.

“They then had the temerity to say that they would give no guarantee that council would accept their work against the schedule held by council and that further works may be required depending on how the standards are interpreted. This just doesn’t seem right.”

Indeed not and Nixjet went on to say they wanted to recommend to their owners corporation that they engage an independent third-party fire safety specialist to check the work of the previous and current companies and come up with a recommendation on what needed to be done to satisfy the minimum requirements.

Encouraged

Encouraged by other Flatchatters’ responses, Nixjet checked the reports against the regulations, contacted their strata manager, and this week we received this update.

“After reading all the entries on this topic I decided to … read what our obligations actually are and then scrutinise everything the current (new) Fire company was recommending and threatening to breach us on.

“Through our strata manager I was able to get them to take a revised fire safety schedule to council that complied with our pre-existing fire safety systems and made some more subtle adjustments to meet modern expectations.

“We also applied for an extension to lodge the AFSS to allow us to do the work. The upshot is instead of a $36k bill we will have an $11k bill and we have 6 months extra to complete.

“We won’t need a special levy for this either. Lesson learned – scrutinise and question everything and try to do it from an informed position, read up. Engage positively with your strata manager, you’re paying them after all.”

Good advice.  Oh, and read Flat Chat every week … who knows how much money you could be saving your strata scheme?

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