Last week we looked at fire ordinances and old apartment blocks, but recent headlines have mostly been about shiny new buildings and the flammable cladding that makes them look so sleek and modern.
The Grenfell Tower fire in London last June, in which more than 80 people died, spread so rapidly because of the cladding on the building’s exterior walls.
However, our own potential Grenfell – the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne in 2014 – caused zero casualties and residents were allowed to continue living in the building, despite the flammability of the cladding having been well and truly proven.
Meanwhile the rest of Australia has gone into a form of cladding madness with insurance premiums rocketing, often regardless of the actual risk attached to the buildings concerned.
And state and federal governments are rightly introducing bans on the installation of the hydrocarbon sandwich that has fuelled fires around the world.
But residents in the Lacrosse, like those in the Torch in Dubai, for instance, were spared, partly by having working sprinkler systems (the Grenfell didn’t).
And Fire and Rescue NSW, Fire Protection Association Australia and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council have said fire sprinklers should be mandatory for all new apartment buildings over three storeys high.
Currently fire sprinklers are only required in residential buildings over 25m high. The building in the fatal Bankstown, Sydney, fire in 2012 was intentionally built a fraction lower so that sprinklers wouldn’t be required.
If sprinklers had been installed, student Connie Zhang probably wouldn’t have had to jump to her death.
So there’s a new focus on fire safety, all of which means that apartment blocks are likely to be a bit more expensive to build in the future.
It costs about $15 to $25 per square metre of floor space to add sprinklers to the build of a previously exempt small apartment block. So a block with a total floor space of say 3,500 sqm would set the developer back an extra $50,000 to $70,000.
And if builders also have to install safer, more expensive cladding, off-the plan purchasers could be facing a hefty price increase if tougher regulations are introduced mid-build.
Developers might be entitled to ask potential purchasers to pay more for the same apartment, on the basis that it is materially different.
The purchaser may be able to pull out of the contract, although they would only get their deposit back – its buying power diminished if the market has risen since it was handed over.
Of course, all of this can be covered by your contract and you could try to insert a clause that said you aren’t liable for additional costs caused by increased safety measures. Good luck with that.
Fire safety and insurance increases will be one of the topics at our Strata Matters owners’ day in Sydney next Saturday (March 10). Go to OCN.org,au for more details.