Opal Tower has grabbed the headlines, and with good reason. The shocking cracks brought forward a stark and visual defect that required decisive and immediate action. Yet the vast majority of construction defects are waterproofing failures that create long-term misery rather than short-term shock; hardly a headline-grabbing occurrence.

Strata title residences allow inhabitants to own the space in which they live along with a share of the common property (including pipes and walls). Burgeoning research provides suggestions that defect in strata title buildings are significant and widespread.

A 2017 survey by the City of Sydney found defects and maintenance to be the topic concern of owner-occupiers in apartments. Further back, a 2012 study by City Futures found that 72% of 1,020 strata owners knew of at least one significant defect in their complex.

Past Certification Requirements Compared with the Present

We find the exact same issues when referencing studies back in the early 1990s, when certification was largely in the hands of local governments. This has been the case for speculative housing developments since the end of World War One.

Cost control is vital when developers attempt to make a profit. In a competitive market, the urge to maximize profit threatens to dominate and override concern for both short and long-term construction failures.

Building inspections for new developments might involve inspecting one unit out of many. It is highly unlikely that defects will be located in the common property of the building, or even in specific other properties.

The Certification Stage Comes Too Late

If the aim is to increase the quality of life of the residents and improve the standards of buildings, government will need to intervene in the stages of design and construction, rather than only at the beginning and end of the process.

No current actor in the construction value-chain process has the capacity to take this role. Yet the incentives to residents, the government and even developers are great. The less rectification is required, the less grief and cost will be spent on fixing, with a longer life span for the building.

Governments meanwhile have been busy promoting such accommodation as a solution to rising populations in Sydney and Melbourne. In order to effectively tackle the issue, government must focus its energies on alleviating the risks that their promoted option creates.

Increased Information could be the Key

Making clear the quality of the entire construction process could have benefits for the buyer. Under a transparent set of criteria, customers should be able to know exactly what they are paying for, especially at cheaper prices.

The Building and Construction Council in NSW launched an attempt at such a scheme in the 1990s. This ultimately failed due to lack of funding and will. If the NSW and Victorian governments want to demonstrate their seriousness about putting a greater amount of people into multi-unit developments, then they also have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their living conditions.