Australian Building Codes Board Building Confidence Report
NATIONAL FRAMEWORK INDUSTRY LEADERS CONSULTATIVE GROUP MEETING, CANBERRA
It is time to draw a line in the sand. Buildings must be future-proofed.
Recommendation 20 of the Shergold Weir “Building Confidence Improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia” report relates to building documentation being produced and held inconsistently, usually incomplete, ad hoc and in hard copy.
The peak body Strata Community Association has released its Australian Building Manual Guideline today, developed in conjunction with WebFM and Engineers Australia. It seeks to ensure that all building documentation from permit stage and soil testing, to application for an Occupancy Permit, includes a register of all:
· building materials, plans, modifications, substitutions
· products used
· appliances, fixtures and fittings; and
· equipment and system manufacturer and warranty information.
According to the Victorian CEO of SCA, Maree Davenport, attending the ABCB industry leaders meeting, the Building Manual should be prescribed nationally to ensure it is consistently prepared. “It must be handed over by law from the developer (initial owner) to the new owners (Owners Corporation) prior to an Occupancy Permit (for a new building) or Certificate of Final Inspection (for a renovation) on completion of work, being approved.
“SCA recommend that a central building records database be extended to include fixtures, fittings and appliances to track faulty product identification and location, subsequent replacements and assist with recalls. “This will ensure all Lot Owners and occupiers as well as Owners Corporation Managers have access to relevant information for their built environment. The Building Manual would also contain a User Sub manual for all equipment and systems.” she said.
“In practice, the Relevant Building Certifier/ Surveyor would sign off on the Building Manual documentation, which provides a final audit in the building process. The new owners and or/their representatives would accept the Building Manual and consent to the Occupancy Certificate. Policies would be established about unreasonable withholding of consent.” Ms Davenport said.
“The focus now needs to expand to the end user of the building information– consumers in the built environment being strata Lot Owners. To ensure buildings and assets are maintained as required and Essential Safety Measures are compliant, building input information needs to form a ‘living’ document, recording product recalls, replacements and rectification works for equipment and systems on an ongoing basis.” Ms Davenport said.
Currently, building product and user manuals can be non-existent, incomplete or difficult to access. This makes organising and contracting works inefficient, time consuming and more costly. Strata managers procure routine maintenance and other works at the direction of and on behalf of Lot Owners.
Strata Community Association represents the Owners Corporation and Body Corporate sector, which comprises residential properties ranging from 2 units in a suburban street to many hundreds of units in inner city apartment buildings and encompass commercial, retail, lifestyle resorts, retirement villages, car parks, storage facilities, industrial and, increasingly, mixed developments.
It is the Lot Owner – the end user – is the missing link in the building chain. “It is the owners and occupiers of defect-ridden buildings whose lives have been turned upside down by unsafe, non-compliant and not-fit-for-purpose building products. The consumer, already the broken part of the building chain, potentially smashed financially, continues to be told that in the absence of consumer protection, they are responsible for rectifying dangerous cladding on a building they purchased in good faith.”
With this increased financial pressure, some Lot Owners are not paying Owners Corporation levies. Investors and owner occupiers affected are struggling to meet mortgage commitments for properties worth significantly less than what they paid for them. “Strata owner’s levies pay for maintenance of Essential Safety Measures (ESM) in common areas such as fire systems. As a result of defects, urgent repairs including wiring, water leaks and mould lead to unbudgeted expenses and/or insurance excess and legal costs.” Ms Davenport said. According to Consumer Action Law Centre’s “Who is Making Australians Bankrupt?” report released in August, 12% of creditors issuing petitions for bankruptcy relate to strata property levies.
“While the time for blame, finger pointing and criticism about the calamities arising from systemic building regulatory failure in the built environment serve no purpose, these legacy issues must be addressed.” Ms Davenport continued. “Cladding is the tip of the iceberg. There are also product safety issues, for example, spontaneously combustible infinity cabling and exploding glass.” She continued.
“There will always be some building industry operatives who seek out and take advantage of legislative and regulatory loopholes – you can’t regulate against greed and dishonesty. However, lack of consequences and sanctions has increased this cohort, who see fines and settlements as the cost of doing business. Worse is the “phoenixed” builder who has avoided any liability for rectification.”
While a legislative line has been drawn in the sand to improve building regulation going forward, for Lot Owners and occupiers there is no mitigation for personal anguish and financial loss resulting from systemic regulatory failure.
According to the June 2019 report “An Examination of Building Defects in Residential Multi-owned Properties” the most common defects are water ingress, internal and external wall cracking, roofing and guttering problems and tiling faults. These are mainly the result of poor workmanship. SCA (Vic) welcomes the Building Amendment (Registration of Building Trades and Other Matters) Act 2018 enabling the introduction of registration and licensing for, at a minimum, carpenters, bricklayers, water-proofers, plasterers, and footing and slab workers. This will improve training and therefore competency.
While the consumer rightly expects that builders carry out construction works with reasonable skill and care, the reality is that inadequate building code regulation and certification has led to systemic failure.
MEDIA MAREE DAVENPORT [email protected] 0477 889 466
 Nicole Johnston (Deakin University) and Sasha Reid (Griffith University) 2.3.2 Page 10