Recently published New South Wales research has shown that building defects constitute a major concern in strata schemes in NSW.
The City Futures University of NSW’s Governing the Compact City survey of NSW strata owners found that 85% of strata buildings built since 2000 have building defects. The most common defects identified were “water leaks, cracking to internal or external structures and water penetration from the exterior of the building”.
There is no reason to believe that this unacceptable rate of failure to design and/or build strata complexes properly is any different in other states.
It is a major scandal with huge ramifications for the entire property industry. Where is the quality control? Where is the pride of workmanship?
It means that people who buy newer apartments can expect to be confronted with defects that will require extra money to either rectify the problems or to litigate to force the developers and/or building contractors to fix the problems that should not have happened in the first place.
It is not only off-the-plan buyers who are affected. The Governing the Compact City report says that 75% of owners said that some defects in their complexes still had to be fixed – indicating to commentators like me that the solutions are not easy to find or fund. Many of us owners invest and live in apartments because we do not want hassles. We certainly don’t expect to have to deal with expensive defects. Many of us do not have the expertise or temperament to deal with complicated solutions to building problems.
It is a rare committee member who is an experienced structural engineer or project manager. Volunteer committee people with limited or no experience have to find experts to provide solutions to defect problems and weigh up options. This is often a daunting task.
Advice from various experts often pushes a particular product that the advice provider has a special relationship with and, frankly, the methods suggested are simply wrong for the task. I know from bitter personal experience that committees in good faith can engage a contractor to replace roof membranes and discover after the job has been completed that the correct preparation (removal of the old membrane completely) for the roof has not been done and the roof leaked more than it did before the expensive task was undertaken. The new membrane had to be jackhammered off completely and replaced at major inconvenience and cost.
The UNSW survey has also highlighted the problems where developers/builders continue to be owners in the schemes and purposely delay the rectification of defects. “It can be extremely difficult and costly for some owners to have defects problems rectified satisfactorily,” the report authors said.
Another aspect of building maintenance is that the coming to an agreement in strata schemes can be a “difficult and slow process”.
Often tensions arise between individuals and groups with different priorities. Owners have trouble getting a consensus and the formal approval to spend funds on rectifying problems. Many owners are apathetic and disinterested in spending extra money.
A personal experience: One of my neighbours spent six weeks in his holiday apartment. It had a big crack and even a hole where you could see daylight in the kitchen wall. The owner did not even enquire about it – he must have been afraid it was going to cost him personally. I was chairperson at the time and the committee was acting on advice from a structural engineer that it was subsidence and we were to document the crack and only repair it when the crack had stopped growing.
Getting the right advice and then acting on it is critical. How are we going to encourage developers and builders to do their jobs without defects?
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