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The statistic that could make you think twice about buying in a high-rise


Image: AAP

Building defects in the Opal Tower and Mascot Towers have cost residents financially and emotionally, but the Grenfell Tower disaster in London cost dozens of people their lives.

However, a new report from Deakin University has revealed 97 per cent of apartment buildings in New South Wales, and 85 per cent across Australia have some form of structural defect.

It follows studies by the University of New South Wales’ City Futures Research Centre which found 85 per cent of high-rise buildings in NSW built since 2000 have had some form of defects.

Fabric and cladding defects were the most prevalent, followed by fire protection, waterproofing, roof and rainwater disposal and structural issues, lead researcher and senior lecturer at Deakin Business School, Dr Nicole Johnston said today.

Opal Tower was evacuated in December last year after a crack was discovered. Image: AAP

“It is important to note that of the defects coded to building fabric and cladding, one third of those defects were a consequence of water penetration or moisture. So these cases are more likely a result of waterproofing or roof and rainwater disposal defects, showing these two areas may be more greatly impacted than the headline numbers suggest,” Johnston said.

“But the number of defects relating to fire safety are also alarming. Fire is a direct threat to life and fire safety measures installed need to be independently checked and verified to ensure compliance.”

Criminal charges are yet to brought for the Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 69 people, but fire safety experts have said the building’s external cladding was highly flammable and may have accelerated the blaze.

Grenfell survivors and families last week launched legal action in the US against the companies which made the cladding and insulation used in the building. Lawyers said it could be one of the largest product liability cases and, should it be successful, the payout could be more than US$227 million (AU$405.3 million).

A ‘disconnect in requirements’ part of the problem

The research, which included analysis of 212 building defect reports and 3227 building defects, also found that residents, owners and other stakeholders were most likely to cite water penetration and faulty fire protection as a problem.

But these groups were also concerned about a “disconnect in requirements” between the National Construction Code and Australian Standards.

“The focus on minimum standards instead of best practice in the National Construction Code was also raised as a concern, as well as the private certification system, where community expectations were seen to be out of step with legal requirements,” Johnstone said.

“Many industry representatives suggested that human error played a significant part in building defects and the misuse of building products, lack of training, and lack of licensing were all common factors contributing the defect problems.”

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, the executive officer of the Owners Corporation Network, Karen Stiles said this situation isn’t helped by a culture of silence.

She described the NSW apartment landscape as one undergoing a “very quiet haemorrhaging”.

“People have [had] to move out for extended periods of time or are forced to live through a reconstruction and all of the emotional and financial and physical impacts that go with that,” she said.

“There are enormous problems out in high-rise apartment-land in new apartments.”

Impact on apartment owners ‘most concerning’

While acknowledging challenges within regulation, Johnstone warned that the potential health and financial impacts were the most concerning.

“Mould that has arisen due to water penetration defects is often present and has the potential to lead to serious health implications for residents. Plus the lack of care by trades in properly managing mould often leads to spores embedding or remaining in lots,” she said.

A Mascot Towers resident leaves with her cat. Image: AAP

“And for lot owners there are also financial impacts. The type of defects we commonly observed require invasive and often costly remedial works to rectify, particularly for waterproofing and fire separation failures.”

According to reports, the Mascot Towers defect will see owners hit with a $1 million immediate repairs bill that could potentially balloon out to $5.5 million. Additionally, residents have reportedly been told that the building’s insurance will not cover the cost of temporary accommodation.

Mascot Towers was evacuated over the crack. Image: AAP

“The financial burden placed on lot owners when builders fail to rectify building defects can lead to a number of psychological health impacts,” Johnstone said of the study. “Particularly stress related, and for some are financially ruining.”

The fractures in buildings extend beyond the bricks and mortar, she continued, explaining that residents ultimately pay.

“Building defects are considered inevitable by the building industry, so it is essential to gain a better understanding of the nature of defects in residential multi-owned properties in order to respond effectively,” she said.

“Government intervention that starts with in-depth stakeholder and end-user consultation is urgently required in order to stem the flow of these defects.”

Mascot Towers residents are still seeking clarity over their living arrangements as the entire 10-story building remains uninhabitable

Residents have been unable to return for more than brief visits to gather belongings. Image: AAP

In a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, residents and owners said last Friday’s evacuation has left them in “extreme mental and financial duress”.

“There has been a shocking lack of leadership and emergency planning when this crisis happened," they wrote.

Berejiklian on Monday promised to introduce legislation to overhaul the building and construction industry to parliament this week, with an aim of bringing it into law by the end of 2019.

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