There could be as many as five apartment blocks in NSW teetering on the brink of forced evacuation – as befell the Mascot and Opal Towers four years ago – because their owners corporations are too scared to come forward and ask for help with their defects.
But Building Commissioner David Chandler has urged worried owners corporations and their managers to approach Fair Trading and his office so that they can help with defects.
If necessary his office will exercise its Continued Occupation Protocols, to ensure residents can stay in their homes while their buildings are being made safe.
An insider told Flat Chat that Mr Chandler may already know at least two of the endangered blocks and his team has reached out to their committees to offer help, albeit cautiously to avoid raising undue alarm.
Mr Chandler says he wants to avoid repetition of the scenes on Christmas Eve 2018 and June 2019 when residents were evacuated from their apartments in the Opal and Mascot Towers, respectively, after the buildings were declared unsafe.
“One of the things that we’re focusing our immediate attention on is buildings that might have defects that could [compromise] their continued occupation,” Mr Chandler said last week on the Flat Chat Wrap podcast.
“Let’s never have another Mascot Towers. I think there’s probably another, three, four or five buildings out there that could go down that pathway if they’re not brought to our attention early,” Mr Chandler said.
“We had one last year where I got an email from Fire and Rescue on a Friday afternoon, saying, ‘Commissioner, we’re very concerned about this building. It’s got so many issues to do with fire that we are worried about its occupation’.
“I met with Fire and Rescue on a Monday morning to find out what was their issues, I went out and saw that building on Monday afternoon, I had a meeting with the owners corporation (body corporate) on Wednesday, and we agreed on what we call a Continued Occupation Protocol, which basically said, what are the things that we have to do so these people can stay in this building.
“So the owners agreed to fix the fire doors, make the smoke detectors work, do a range of things that we can do within 10 days… to bring this up to the standard that we really want, not just the ones that are just going to challenge the occupation. Now we achieved that.”
“And the only ultimate condition was that the owners corporation put a fire warden into the building 24/7 until those things …were ticked off.”
There are a number of reasons why owners may not pursue defects, Mr Chandler says. They could range from not wishing to harm the reputation of their building, which would affect their ability to sell before defect rectification bills come in, to not even being aware of the problems.
That can occur when the residents don’t go into the common property areas where the defects are evident and their building manager – if they even have one – doesn’t alert them to the problems.
“We’ve got a couple of buildings at the moment that … have structural issues, and they’ve got props in them. They are currently in what we call the continued occupation protocol phase. We’re not going to say they’re not occupiable.
“I just want to make sure that consumers are far more confident to come and do that.”
The commissioner announced earlier this month that applications for Project Intervene have been extended from June 30 to December this year.
The program offers strata schemes under six years old help in getting developers to fix building defects. Mr Chandler say there are currently about 150 apartment blocks in NSW registered for the scheme.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.