All states of Australia have undertaken legislative reform in response to the dangers of combustible cladding on buildings. Noone will deny that the tragedy of London’s Grenfell Tower blaze, which claimed the lives of 72 people, was horrific.
As a result, the need to tighten building regulations to ensure this does not occur here is paramount. However is the scope of the building reforms and the effect upon so many building owners reasonable? Is it fair and reasonable for those who have, in good faith, trusted developers and builders to use approved and safe materials, to foot the bill for something out of their control? Are unit owners being placed in a position of double jeopardy by being required to pay for addressing the shortcomings in the building regulations which have failed to adequately protect them?
The Gold Coast Bulletin published an article on 7 May outlining what these new requirements for building audits will cost unit owners and the unreasonable timeframe now being enforced by the Queensland Government to have these audits completed. The article “Building Watchdog Orders 677 Buildings on Gold Coast to Undergo Independent Audit in Combustible Cladding” identified that buildings on the Gold Coast had been asked to cough up $2.7 million in three weeks to prove their homes were not about to go up in smoke. Was this really a reasonable ask?
For many, the costs of audits, let alone repair work is unaffordable and could see many people without a home. This was evident in a story recently published by Channel 9 Melbourne where residents were receiving threats of huge fines and eviction by the regulator if cladding was not removed.
Victorian residents threatened with huge fines and eviction over dangerous building cladding
Strata Community Association Queensland has hit back at the Queensland Government with an article published in the Courier Mail on 4 May, “Building Regulation Changes Expensive Hit to Unit Owners”. The article tries to shed light on what exactly constitutes cladding and how unreasonable these assumptions are in the ‘cladding checklists’ created by the Government. What constitutes a nonconforming product in the new regulations is a little vague.
Queensland is the most recent Government to come under criticism for their handling of the cladding issue and the debate is far from over. The anticipated costs of $20 million for 5026 buildings in Queensland to complete Stage 2 of the cladding audit is only the tip of the iceberg. Many buildings may then need to proceed to Stage 3, which involves engaging a Fire Engineer. These costs are, however, only related to identifying what type of building materials are actually present in the building – this may be followed by excessive expenses in rectifying any nonconforming building products.
James Nickless, General Counsel at the MaxSoft Group and Vice President of SCA Queensland, has been actively following the progress of these regulations and believes what is being suggested by each state is unreasonable and basically, not achievable.
“All stakeholders would agree that safety is of paramount importance, however, it begs the question as to why the unit owners are the ones bearing the costs of this exercise instead of the builders, developers and authorities that created the problem”, commented Mr Nickless
This debate is far from over and the Queensland Government need to engage with all stakeholders to find a safe and fair solution.