It’s hard to know exactly how to respond to the chaos at Mascot Towers. If you haven’t heard, last weekend hundreds of residents were forced to leave a South Sydney apartment building when worrying cracks in supporting walls and beams suddenly widened.
At time of writing, there is no telling when they will be allowed to move back in.
Meanwhile, the government is saying they’ll pursue those responsible … but how exactly do they plan to do that is unclear?
There are mixed signals about what caused the cracks to appear in the first place. Was it bad building practises, the work going on in the next block or the steady rumble of trains on the airport line far below?
A combination of all three is the most logical conclusion but that just reduces the already minimal chances of those responsible for the building’s state being held to account.
Once again, after the Opal Tower fiasco on Christmas Eve last year, the state government is talking about tightening regulations. A phrase involving a horse and a stable door springs to mind.
Should anyone have seen this coming? One resident was quoted as saying that the building had problems from day one. But what high rise doesn’t?
Another said he’d just recently been congratulating himself for having bought into one of the best blocks in the area.
The simple fact of the matter is that with building warranties having run out five years ago, the apartment owners are the only body with a legal obligation to maintain and repair the crumbling building.
Strata insurance might kick in, but I’m guessing it would only do so if it can be shown the cracks were the result of a catastrophic event, rather than just the inevitable consequence of poor design and/or faulty building works.
Given their appalling track record with flammable cladding, it is highly unlikely that the state government will step up with financial help for the owners.
With cladding, they have basically told unit owners to get on and fix it, even though few if any would have had any idea that they were buying into buildings covered in what has been described as solid petrol.
Also, considering that the belief is strong among many professionals that Mascot Towers will not be the last of these crises, the government won’t want to set a precedent that could turn out to be very expensive indeed.
That said, the major parties have between them a massive amount of responsibility for the fact that there are defects in too many buildings in NSW.
In their collective rush, over the years, to give anyone who called themselves a developer free rein to construct crap blocks, with self-certification and no comeback when things went wrong, our politicians have planted the seeds of this mess and now ordinary owners are reaping the poisoned fruit.
The sick joke of self-certification allied to the ability of building companies and developers to shut up shop and “phoenix” into an entirely new company with the same directors and business methods, as soon as their customers realised they have been duped, has created and nurtured this problem.
Maybe now the government will get a grip of the whole planning and certification process. But what about all the other suspect buildings that there are around? No amount of regulations is going to help them when the cracks start to appear.
So here’s a thought for the future.
The government should create a compulsory by-law that requires every strata building in the state to devise a catastrophe plan, including identifying potential emergency accommodation for all residents – not just owners – when they are forced to evacuate their homes.
The plan should include an agreed amount – set by the owners corporation – that they will pay anyone who needs to stay in an hotel or even Airbnb (Lord help us!) on the presentation of receipts.
And they will have a set of procedures in place so that SES workers can enter a dangerous building to rescue pets and retrieve essentials like medicines and baby essentials.
There have been evacuations in the recent past where resident owners have been looked after but tenants have been told to call their landlords and make their own arrangements. Given that half the residents of apartments are renters, this can’t be tolerated.
If you think a catastrophe plan is nuts, ask the people in the Mascot Tower how they felt when they were forcibly prevented from retrieving their pets and switching off t appliances that they’d forgotten in the panic.
We have plans for fires that may never happen and statistically are unlikely to occur. It’s time we had processes in place for the disaster we all hope never happens to us, but know that some day it will, for someone, somewhere.