On brink of evacuation after defects warning


A perfect storm of disagreeing experts, extreme caution, genuine fears for safety and an earthquake, took an apartment block to the brink of being evacuated last week.

Add in concerns about property values and NSW’s hopeless consumer protections for apartment owners and the residents of the Vicinity apartment tower in Canterbury, in Sydney’s south-west could be in for a rough ride.

According to this story in the Sydney Morning Herald, the state government decided not to evacuate the building despite an engineer’s report warning that the building was at serious risk of collapse due to structural flaws.

Instead NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler said inspectors had advised that there was “no immediate safety risk” to residents of the 10-storey tower constructed six years ago by high-profile developer Toplace.

However, Mr Chandler told the SMH that there might be a need for some temporary actions and further works to make the building compliant with the building code and to ensure the ongoing safety of residents.

“There is also likely to be a need for longer-term monitoring,” he said of the unit.

According to the SMH, a team of experts including the state’s chief emergency engineer, spent several hours inspecting the 276-apartment building on Charles Street on Wednesday afternoon.

Some residents had already packed their bags in case they were forced to evacuate, says the SMH.

The Fair Trading inspection was sparked by a 270-page report from a structural engineer hired by owners.

It warned that the 10-storey tower was a “risk to occupants”, and a collapse would also lead to “catastrophic damage” to two other apartment buildings that make up the Vicinity complex.

The owners’ corporation funded report claimed that a range of serious concerns, including the “magnitude of support deficiencies” and loss of structural robustness and absence of “fundamental structural members”, put the 10-storey building at severe risk of collapse in an earthquake.

However, the developer responded that its experts had found that “assumptions and information” in the report were “plainly wrong” and had resulted in “incorrect conclusions”.

Toplace gained media prominence earlier this year when, in what could be an industry first, it deposited $11 million in a holding fund to cover potential defect rectification for its Skyview apartment complex in Castle Hill for the next 20 years.

However, residents of two of its Riviera apartment blocks in Parramatta meanwhile launched legal action over defects claims.

It can reasonably be assumed that, just as the Grenfell Tower fire in London heightened concerns about flammable cladding on apartment blocks, some building engneers have become more acutely aware of the potential for building block disasters.

This follows the discovery of cracks in the Opal and Mascot Towers and, especially, the fatal collapse of a condominium building in Surfside, Florida in June, which claimed 98 lives.

A task force subsequently created to examine Florida’s condominium (strata) law has sheeted responsibility to condo associations (bodies corporate) calling for stricter requirements for them to maintain cash reserves for essential repairs and maintenance, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

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