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  • #51539

    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, …

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  • #51546

    I’m on the SC of a small older block in Sydney. We had been using the same company for our AFSS for years. They weren’t overly expensive but were reluctant to answer questions when we queried a few items of overservicing. 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.
    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 tenacity 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.
    I feel we are being blackmailed into compliance over a creative interpretation of a standard to force a retrofit of a fire safety system that might be nice to have but is certainly not a requirement , wasn’t required when the building was built, or when the strata was set up or in subsequent annual fire inspections . It’s only been since the new company took over that we have gone from several years of full compliance to serious-breach-city and a program of fire safety works which will require a special levy to pay for and months of work.
    The model where the certifier is essentially determining the interpretation of the standard, quoting for the work, excluding others from completing the work, then certifying their own work before handing over the precious AFSS is deeply floored. I have also found the strata management company to be quite willing to just accept whatever quotes come through without scrutinising what’s been done and not be concerned over how a building can go from years of compliance with no major problems to needing substantial retrofitting of compliant systems.
    We engage the services of professionals and experts to advise in areas where we have no experience. We need to be able to trust them.
    I would dearly like to recommend to the OC that we engage an independent 3rd party fire safety specialist to go through the work of our past company and that proposed by the new company and come up with a recommendation on what needs to be done to satisfy the minimum requirements. However I am worried about how much this would cost and the delay it would cause not to mention the threat to not obtaining our precious AFSS.
    Any thoughts or ideas?


    It’s very good that this topic is being discussed on Flatchat.  It seems to be an issue for many OC/BCs Australia wide.   For many OC/BCs the maintenance of the fire safety systems in their buildings is a major annual expense.  For the OC that I chair it is our second largest annual expense after compulsory insurance.

    A  characteristic of the fire safety industry is the partly interpretive nature of it. There are laws and standards that can be very precise in some areas but can be interpretive in others.  In Victoria, the fire safety engineering design of a new building needs to be proposed by a qualified fire safety engineer and then peer reviewed by another. If you have any doubts about the interpretive nature of some parts of fire safety design, simply read a fire safety engineering peer review.  The registered building surveyor decides the final fire safety engineering design and sets the maintenance requirements of that design in the building’s Occupancy Permit, in a schedule titled “Essential Service Requirements”.  That’s where the term “Essential Services” comes from.  The Essential Service maintenance requirements, most of which are inspections and testing, are ongoing legal obligations for the OC.

    The partly interpretive nature of the fire safety industry carries over into maintenance.  So you sometimes get Essential Services maintenance vendors disagreeing with other vendors about the standards.   And you get frustrated OCs wondering how come their building passed inspections for years then suddenly failed due to something that existed when it was first certified and occupied.  I’ve actually had our original registered building surveyor back on site to explain a couple of those to me.   And to their credit, they did.  So that’s an option for an OC/BC.

    The way I originally dealt with the issue, as an OC chair, was to learn what our Essential Services maintenance obligations actually were.  That’s was time consuming.  But it did at least allow me to converse with our Essential Services vendors in a much better way.

    I can say too that there are some good Essential Services vendors out there.  And that an OC is not obliged to use an inspection and testing vendor to carry out any repairs and replacements.  We often seek other quotes for the repairs and replacements part elsewhere.  But that’s more work for the OC.

    And I wrote a document, some of which is below, mostly for my own and the committee’s benefit.  It’s my opinion/experience only and sorry if it’s too long or too Victoria specific:

    Essential Services in Our Buildings

    Owners (including Owners Corporations) are required by law to inspect, test, maintain and monitor the
    Essential Services that are listed on their Occupancy Permit according to the schedule stated on the permit. Owners are also required by law to produce an Annual Essential Safety Measures Report (AESMR).

    Legal Aspects
    The law does not specify who, apart from the owner, must inspect, test, maintain and monitor the Essential Services or produce the AESMR. The main requirements are that inspections and tests are done by a competent person at the required intervals, are properly logged for any future inspection and that monitoring should be continuous with a certain level of redundancy. If any faults are found due to the inspections and testing, the repair of any equipment must be done by licensed trades persons.
    That an Owners Corporation employs anyone to inspect, test, maintain and report on Essential Services is completely optional. There are no legal requirements for an OC to do so. That an Owners Corporation
    employs someone to continuously monitor an Essential Service is probably the only realistic option.
    Although the law allows an Owners Corporation to delegate the Essential Services duties to “specialist
    maintenance contractors”, an Owners Corporation is not compelled to employ anyone if they believe they have the competence to do the work themselves.

    Specialist Maintenance Contractors in Victoria
    Contractors who perform Essential Services “specialist maintenance” in Victoria need not be licensed nor must they have any formal qualifications. They must however be competent. The industry is, in effect, unregulated.

    Owners Corporations Options
    Because Essential Service inspections, testing, maintenance and monitoring are vital to the safety of all
    occupants of the building, it is probably wise for an Owners Corporation to employ Essential Services
    “specialist maintenance contractors”.

    What Exactly do the “Specialist Maintenance Contractors” do?
    Most of the routine inspection and testing of Essential Services is not complex and takes just minutes to
    perform. Some inspections and tests take longer but they are done at yearly or half yearly intervals. All
    inspections and tests however require on-site visits. Continuous Fire Alarm Monitoring, one of the most expensive items in Essential Services, is effectively a duopoly in Victoria. The two companies that offer the service use specialised radio equipment that remotely detects an alarm from our Fire Indicator Panel and automatically calls the fire brigade. The actual work that “specialist maintenance contractors” do seems poor value for money. The inspections often take just a short time each week (or month or quarter) yet cost thousands of dollars annually. At an hourly rate, the cost of the tests and inspections approaches $400/hour. If any repairs are required, they are charged separately.

    Our current vendor costs are however typical of the industry.

    We did later change vendors for a considerable savings.   The industry seems to be becoming more competitive.


    Another area that apartment owners are ripped off is with car park stacker maintenance. I recently completed a block of apartments that I decided to retain as a long term investment

    The car park stackers (10 X2) are imported with only one authorised representative in Melbourne. I am obliged to use the importer for all maintenance as they are the only ones with access to spare parts.

    The cost of an annual maintenance contract is $5000 for two visits of about 2 hours each. An exorbitant charge by any measure.


    I read your Financial Review article a few weeks ago and immediately recognised our ES providers! The agreement was negotiated with this company two years ago by the developer and its appointed OC manager.

    I am the Chair and sole rep of our 6-apt block. I am currently challenging the provider over their shoddy inspection process where the same issues are logged month after month without any feedback to our manager or us.

    The upshot is the Fire Inspection Panel batteries ran “out of date” 12 months ago and they have just presented us with their unsolicited quote for new batteries. I have tried to explain to our manager that they, as prime contractor, will suffer through lousy work by suppliers like this one.

    I’ll keep you posted on any success I have!


    I have an update.

    After reading all the entries on this topic I decided to take a similar course of action and read what our obligations actually are and then scrutinise everything the current 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.

    Flame Tree (Qld)

    Annual door inspection work in Qld is a mafioso style racket, so I’m told you must not get the same folk who do the inspection and fault finding to thereafter be the same who quote the new apparently required works. ‘Don’t ask the barber if you need a haircut’.

    We were told we needed 46 of 50 new doors. You can sniff a rat, I’m thinking, by the number of recommended doors to be replaced v the number they say they can just repair (we were sold 46 new and 0 repairables!).

    On the works to be done, know your committee can’t break the full cost of this into smaller jobs and sell that to owners if it’s all really just one big work order. Your committee will likely then buy into the new door colour and furniture without reaslising they can’t just totally change the look and feel from what was there.

    That would take it from maintenance related same/same to an improvement which is subject to different spending limts and if not like for like, [meaning it] needs owners AGM motion approval – otherwise the old fools rush to buy cheap junk that owners are thereafter stuck with – esp if a few would not be at this decision making committee meeting and 3 or 4 folk without any expertise will win the vote and the over-priced value destructive stuff goes in… which it can’t remain in when someone thereafter tells them they can’t and then you all pay for the rectification.

    Finally when any new stuff does go in, ensure someone capable checks it. In our case at least one of the new beaut mismatched painted doors with silly handles and wrong locks was delivered and installed 20 mm too short so not to new spec and sure to be pinged when the same guys come back for next years inspection.

    And to help avoid that ensure all owners are properly briefed on what they can and can’t do to keep the new doors up to spec – as in, put your own peep hole in and we need replace the whole door.

    Final thought would be: it wouldn’t be hard and certainly neighborly if the committee gave owners the choice to stump up and pay the little extra to have the internal side colour painted to match their interior colour scheme if this has been changed during any reno work they make have done before their own painter packed and left at a time prior, rather than be forced have the same exterior colour forced upon them inside their home.

    Our story is yet to run out but it’s been a horrible stressful affair for those of us trying to avoid the death by 1000 cuts here.


    Skim down to Nixjet’s report on how he heeded the warnings on this Topic and saved his strata scheme $25k on fire safety upgrades.


    Our faith in fire services companies has been severely diminished.

    When our current Strata Committee took over from the previous SC we found the ‘essential services’ in an incredible mess. We found that in our 25 year old 27 level apartment block essential services were being managed (as they had been for many years) by an associate of the SC Chair/Sec/Treasurer at the time. The three positions were held by a couple from a local realestate company who didn’t own or live in the building (now illegal) – so you would have to ask why they held these positions?

    We found Annual Fire Safety Statements, for the life of the building, had been fabricated. For example it was found that the fire stairs pressurization system had never complied – since the building was constructed, even though signed off each year that it did comply  The new SC (including 2 engineers) worked for 12 months and spent over $100K to have the system comply – this was no thanks to at least 3 fire services companies engaged during the process who were incapable fixing the problem.

    In addition we found our local Council were using an ‘Essential Services requirement’ that that did not apply to our building.  Even though the SC presented the evidence to Council to prove their document was incorrect (due to an incorrect construction date) Council refused to accept our argument. A freedom of information search revealed Council had lost key original documents. We commissioned a reputable fire engineer who presented exactly the same information to Council and it was accepted, meaning additional work with costs in excess of $50K quoted by one of the fire companies to bring the building ‘up to standard’ was not required.

    We now work with a fire company on the understanding that any work required may be performed by the company the SC chooses – although it is more work for the SC we choose the best company for the work required, eg emergency lighting is replaced from a stock of units we have purchased and we have our electrician install them. These stock lighting units have the longest life batteries available (as opposed to the cheapest shortest life units used by previous fire companies – this alone is ploy to maximize labour costs).

    Many fire companies employ poorly trained technicians (simply forgetting to reset a jacking pump following maintenance has caused significant water damage and a damaged $10K main pump system in our  building).  This together with a lack of competition perpetuates gouging.  In many cases SCs don’t even know it’s happening.  Management and close scrutiny of ‘Essential Services’ providers should be a critical function of any SC.

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