Report: Apartment Building Defects Greatest Concern For Owners

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A recent study that was performed by Queensland’s Griffith University has concluded that building defects are the primary challenge of unit owners.

Professor Christopher Guilding’s national survey of both owners and renters of apartments found that building defects, whether from poor construction or building quality, are the number one concern.

For strata lawyers, it’s also the number one issue and ranks in the top five for those who manage residential apartment buildings.

Because of his findings, Professor Guilding is seeking a governmental inquiry into the rampant building defect problem.

The results of the survey, entitled “Inquiry Into Key Challenges In Australian Strata Title”, were released in September. They were presented during the launch of the Strata and Community Title in Australia for the 21st Century conference.

Professor Guilding’s Personal Findings

Professor Guilding has been quoted as saying, “It’s striking how strongly building defects comes through as the biggest concern.” He went on to justify his call for an inquiry by stating,

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

For those who question the validity of his argument, he explained,
“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.”

While apartment owners have given many reasons for the cause of building defects, including builders who are not qualified and developers who don’t intend to stick around for the long haul, there are more specific complaints.

In Their Own Words

One owner gave the statement that, “It needs to be recognised that defects are the issue (not quality).

The problems are often basic things like leaks into living areas, render and paint falling off after year 1 and imported – cheaper and not Australian Standard-compliant – glass imploding for unexplained reasons, and potentially causing personal death or injury.”

He went on to claim that these defects are wreaking havoc across Australia, threatening untold amounts of apartment dwellers.

A different owner gave a similar report, saying, “Roofs that don’t leak are a human right yet building defects are rife across Class A and B developments nationwide.

In part, this results from poor education and training structures in the building industry. So many areas of construction (wet area sealing membranes, gyprock) are performed by people without formal training or qualification.

Inspection regimes are not actually designed to discover any but the most egregious faults.”

Speaking of inspections, another main contributor to the epidemic of building defects was identified as weakening regulations that do little to protect apartment owners as well as the increasingly popular choice to privately certify that buildings are up to code.

The Laws Barely Help

The Home Building Amendment Act, passed in New South Wales in January, has lowered the time limit for statutory claims on building defects to just two years after building.

There is an exception for “major defects”, but no real definition on what constitutes “major”.

One apartment owner who replied to Professor Guilding’s survey gave his issue with the amendment, saying:

“Building defects may not be recognised in the early years of the building and may not be tackled in time for claims or rectification before problems get worse, for example water penetration.”

Professor Guilding, who is also the chairman of the Griffith University conference on strata and community title, has been researching issues in the industry for years.

His survey covered a sample of twenty different people across the strata sector in several different industry groups.

The findings of their answers regarding the biggest issues faced by those who live in and manage apartments will be debated at the conference.

He succinctly summed up his views regarding the issue of rampant, unaddressed building defects:

“If the building industry aren’t getting it right the first time here, then the defects are very costly to rectify later, and it leads to a lot of problems for such a long period of time.”

Fortunately for those who suffer from building defects, strata lawyers have come out in strong support of apartment owners.

They overwhelmingly agreed that fixing defects is by far the biggest problem apartment owners and renters face today. They also stated that the issue is only going to get worse as buildings get older and are in need of even more repair.

Regarding a recent court case in the High Courts where the owner’s corporation of a Sydney apartment complex were denied the right to sue the builder over the cost of fixing alleged building defects, one lawyer stated:

“It has emphasised the difficulty for an individual unit owner purchasing into a scheme to pursue the builder of that lot with respect to defects.”

The remaining top five issues concluded by the survey were:

  • Weak strata title management.
  • Conflicting interest of developers in new buildings.
  • Ineffective committees or owners corporations and
  • poor law and regulation enforcement.