In light of last week’s evacuation of Sydney’s Mascot Towers, more than 100 residents convened for a Thursday evening meeting to seek answers and explanations.
Their questions included, Could the cracking that caused the evacuation deepen and worsen? When will they be able to return to their homes? What will repair costs be? And who is accountable?
Separate meetings took place that evening at a local Holiday Inn to accommodate owners and tenants. Many tenants are now staying with friends in the wake of the evacuation, and are calling for a greater understanding of their plights.
This marks the second emergency evacuation to strike the Sydney high rise residential market in six months, as Homebush’s Opal Tower was cleared Christmas Eve. Residents from 156 of 392 apartments there have not been able to return to their domiciles, with builder Icon predicting that repairs will be complete next month.
According to NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts’ specialist report, the cracking and movement found in the Opal complex could be attributed to material and construction deficiencies affecting hob beams and concrete plates.
The Mascot Towers problem has yet to be linked to a root cause, although strata records reveal problems traced as far back as 2011. Many feel, however, that the building’s deterioration is associated with construction at a nearby site.
What residents do know is that they won’t be going home anytime soon, and that a $1 million contingency fund will have to be established to stabilize the complex.
Redress does not seem feasible, as the statutory warranty period for recompense claims (up to two years for minor defects and six years for major defects) has expired. And owners are being told that the complex’ builder/developer went into administration years ago.
Owners Corporation Network spokesman Stephen Goddard states that Mascot Towers owners have only themselves to depend on, and some may have to file for personal bankruptcy due to their inability to afford mortgage repayments or levies. He wonders at the absence of consumer protection in this situation.
In a struggling housing market, this situation further impairs consumer confidence in the high-rise residential sector.
In the last five years, more than 114,000 apartments have been constructed in Sydney. Another 140,000 are set to be constructed in the next five years, and all told nearly 30 percent of Sydney residents are apartment dwellers. That percentage is expected to elevate.
Yet as construction continues, concerns arise that more structural defects will be discovered. A recent case, one in which all 600 bathrooms in an eight-year-old building need to be replaced, got no publicity. Some even cite what they feel is a conspiracy of silence, with an increasing number of defects found in newer buildings. They say that unit buyers don’t know what action to take when problems arise, and strata managers may be reluctant to take action because of their allegiance to developers. Owners may try to solve issues without publicity, so that unit sales won’t be hindered. Currently at Mascot Towers, people are making very low price offers for units, said one sales agent.
Many experts say that government regulation is needed in this area, to both cure structural defects and restore consumer confidence in the building industry as a whole. They say a greater understanding of the national construction code needs to be attained, along with enhanced documentation and accountability. More compliance recording and professional licensing must be required, they say, and the 24 recommendations of the related Shergold-Weir report must be followed. And experts believe that the process of Design and Construct, in which building projects can be approved based on partial plans and corners might be cut throughout the project, must be discontinued. They believe, furthermore, that government officials must be involved and onsite for these projects.
Yet in the wake of a number of reports calling for change, it has yet to materialize. The government has vowed to appoint new building commission officials and increase regulation and reform, and some call for a royal commission. Many agree that better training and registration is needed for building personnel, and councils need to do more extensive area planning.
Meanwhile, people at Mascot Towers need a place to call home.