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Opal: Roberts steps up while Kean sidesteps strata
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27/12/2018 - 7:07 pm
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If there was any further evidence required of Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean’s waning interest in strata owners, it comes this week as Minister for Planning and Housing (and former strata supremo) Anthony Roberts stepped in to get stuff done about the “cracked Opal” nightmare,

Meanwhile the man nominally in charge of strata, Matt Kean, was limiting his concerns to tenants. That’s fine – tenants should be looked after – but the  people who actually pay for these apartments, and whose consumer rights are well and truly up in the air, don’t even seem to come on to his radar.

Just to explain, in the bizarre Russian doll of NSW politics, strata comes under Fair Trading which comes under the pompusly named department of Innovation and Better Regulation, which comes under Matt Kean.

In a press release issued today, it was announced that Mr Roberts had appointed two Professors of Engineering to investigate what occurred at Opal Tower on Christmas Eve.

In the same document, Mr Kean announced that every assistance possible would be offered to tenants who were forced out of their homes.

And owners? Will every assistance be offered to the people who bankrolled this project to make sure they don’t lose out? Don’t hold your breath.

Anyway, here’s the press release in its entirety, without further comment or edit … except for this:  Tenants already have a well-funded and highly regarded support group call the Tenants Union (tenants.org.au). No complaints there – this is a valuable resource, including for strata where half the residents are tenants.

However, NSW strata owners seeking support have the choice of the cash-starved Owners Corporation Network (ocn.org.au) – who do amazing work despite their oily rag finances – and the  SCA strata managers’ “Owners Section” which may be great but, one would reasonably assume, will do little that runs contrary to the interests of strata managers.

But there’s a glimmer of light showing through the cracks in the Opal – maybe, just maybe, strata will move to Housing and Planning where it belongs, rather than the Mickey Mouse department of dangerous toys and dodgy gym memberships.

We can only hope.  Meanwhile, here is the Press Release:

“Earlier this morning the Secretary of the Department of Planning and I confirmed the appointment of specialist investigators to lead an inquiry into the Opal Tower matter,” Mr Roberts said.

“Professors Mark Hoffman (Dean of Engineering at the University of New South Wales) and John Carter (Dean of Engineering at the University of Newcastle) have agreed to conduct an investigation into:

  • the basis of the failure, so we can understand what happened and why?
  • the immediate steps that need to occur to ensure the safety of this building for its occupants, and
  • make recommendations on what needs to happen going forward to avoid incidents like this in the future.

“The report will be made public when completed.

“While the investigators undertake their work, the priority is to  secure any displaced resident appropriate accommodation and support.”

“I’ve been in contact with the developer and the builder in the last 24 hours and have stressed to them my expectation that these residents are looked after.

“I’d also like to place on record my sincere thanks and congratulations to emergency service workers and the engineers from the Department of Public Works who attended the site over Christmas, their hard work and self-sacrifice during this holiday season is a credit to the State.”

Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean said support was on offer to renters through Fair Trading NSW.

“My Office has been in regular contact with Fair Trading and its experienced staff are standing by to provide advice to tenants,” Mr Kean said.

“Renters might not know that they don’t need to give notice to leave a property should their property be damaged and wholly or partly uninhabitable.

“If the investigation shows that to be the case, Fair Trading can talk through the issues and even contact a tenant’s agent or landlord, if disputes can’t be resolved.”

Residents of Opal who want independent help and advice from experienced strata owners should contact the Owners Corporation Network as soon as possible.

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28/12/2018 - 4:39 pm
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The Opal debacle raises the general point: how can one ever know whether an apartment tower is soundly built? Between developers without ethics and governments that have abdicated regulatory responsibility,there is very little chance that an average buyer has any way of knowing of some major underlying defect that could render an apartment unsaleable and unliveable in 6, 12, or 18 years. With a freestanding house, a competent building inspector might spot major problems before a buyer commits. No such option appears available to an apartment buyer.

Perhaps the only course is to buy an apartment some 40 years old. By then, major problems should be evident, and the modernisation bill quantifiable. Otherwise, stay out of the market and rent.

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05/01/2019 - 4:36 pm
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Whatever the Minister does to deal with regulatory failure in the construction industry, it will be welcome but quite possibly too little too late. The boom of the past few years will have left us with a legacy of residential apartments with suspect fire and waterproofing likely to burn holes in the pockets of future owners.

It is time for some honesty from both the government and the real estate industry about what an apartment purchase really involves – airspace not bricks and mortar and unlimited liability for whatever goes wrong in the building.

This elephant in the room should not be allowed to continue to browse unharrassed for fear of upsetting the property market. If the real estate industry is incapable of coming clean then, then it’s the Minister for “Better Regulation & Innovation” who should be driving public awareness of what apartment buyers, and particularly First Home Buyers, are letting themselves in for.

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