Building Defects A Major Concern For Unit Owners

According to a recent survey, low-quality buildings and structural building defects have become a serious concern for Australian apartment owners.

The survey which involved apartment living in strata-titled properties was conducted by Christopher Guilding, a professor at the Griffith Business School of Griffith University in Queensland. Based on the results of the survey, Professor Guilding is calling for an inquiry into the matter by the federal government.

Apartment owners told Professor Guilding that building defects are their biggest concern. Construction defects are also an important concern for strata lawyers and for resident building managers. Guilding says, “It is striking how strongly building defects emerged as the biggest concern.”

Guilding will be presenting the results of his survey, ‘Inquiry Into Key Challenges In Australian Strata Title’ at the September launch of the Biennial National Conference, “Strata and Community Title in Australia for the 21st Century.”

Professor Guilding stated that, “The qualitative survey was conducted across different states so I would have to say this is such a pervasive issue it should be the subject of a federal government inquiry. Such a strong reaction from all the key players in the industry means this is of profound importance.”

He added, “I get a sense these problems are worse in Australia than overseas so we need an inquiry to look into what’s happening.”

An apartment owner who completed the survey stated that defects in the strata sector and poor building quality are common throughout Australia. He believes that these building defects are potentially deadly and he added, “It needs to be recognised that defects are the issue (not quality).”

According to Professor Guilding, “The problems are often basic things like leaks into living areas, render and paint falling off after year one and imported – cheaper and not Australian Standard – glass.” Windows are shattering and imploding for unexplained reasons and they have the potential to cause personal injury or even death.

A resident said, “Roofs that don’t leak are a human right.” Yet, building defects are on the rise across Class A and Class B developments nationwide.

The defects are a result of poor workmanship on the part of labourers who lack education and receive inadequate training. Many construction jobs (wet area sealing membranes, gyprock) are performed by workers who have no formal training and are not qualified to perform construction jobs. Unfortunately, many unqualified inspections are designed to uncover only the most serious and dangerous defects.

Residents believe that the majority of building defects are the fault of developers who are only invested in the buildings for a short period of time.

Unqualified builders are also to blame. Because of the plan to certify buildings privately, insufficient consumer protection and poor building regulations, apartment owners are finding it increasingly difficult to seek and receive fair compensation when things go wrong.

The Home Building Amendment Act that passed in NSW in January of 2015 limited the time during which apartment owners could file statutory claims to two years.

Major structural defects were the only exception. However, building defects usually don’t show up for the first few years. By the time they do, the time limit for filing a statutory claim has run out. Meanwhile, problems like water penetration and leaks just get worse.

Twenty members of different strata sector groups were asked to share what they thought were the biggest problems in strata title living and management. At the Biennial National Conference this September, their thoughts will be presented, discussed and debated. Professor Guilding, who has been conducting research in the strata industry for many years, will be chairing the event.

Professor Guilding suspects that the problem of building defects in Australia is more serious than it is overseas. He believes that an inquiry should be made about what’s happening in other parts of the world.

He said, “I get a sense these problems are worse in Australia than overseas, so we need an inquiry to look into what’s happening elsewhere in the world and whether others are getting this kind of volume of building defects.” If builders aren’t doing the job right the first time around, trying to correct these defects later creates serious problems that may take a very long time to resolve.

Strata lawyers are standing behind apartment owners. In the survey, the lawyers say that having to correct building defects after the fact is the biggest disadvantage of apartment living. This is especially true when you consider that the problems are likely to get worse over time.

A major blow against apartment owners came in 2013 when the High Court ruled that a group of tenants who had been embroiled in a two-year lawsuit against a multi million-dollar apartment complex in Sidney’s Chatswood could not sue Brookfield Multiplex, the builder, to recover losses they had suffered due to building defects in the common areas of the building.

This defeat demonstrates how difficult it is for apartment owners to pursue and receive redress for losses they sustain due to building defects. Unit owners must also deal with poor strata title management, the vested interests of developers, low-quality executive committees of owner corporations, weak laws defending the rights of apartment owners and problems enforcing the laws that do exist.