Finding solutions

30 Jul Finding solutions, not defendants.

Finding solutions, not defendants.

Stories detailing the evacuations of Mascot Tower, Opal Tower, and 19 Gadigal Avenue have been surfacing across all forms of media over the past year, with some experts predicting that the defects found in these buildings may just be the tip of the iceberg for the Australian construction industry. Images of cracks in concrete, steel braces supporting walls, and residents wheeling their belongings down the street have stirred community anger with those responsible for the construction of the buildings attracting most of the blame.

However, before we convict them in the court of public opinion, it must be noted, that there are many individuals and companies involved in the construction process and, at the time of writing, none have accepted fault in any of these three cases. We understand the anger and resentment associated with these buildings, and the financial uncertainty faced by owners must be borderline crippling, but knee-jerk reactions and generalisations of shoddy developers will not solve the problem. Many developers pride themselves on their record and are quick to rectify mistakes or defects when they are brought to their attention. To lump these respectable organisations in with so-called phoenixing companies is unfair to those who strive to enhance their reputations by producing high-quality and long-lasting work.

Despite my hesitancy to blame the entire construction industry, we do believe that the prevalence of building defects and issues throughout the country suggests that changes need to be made. The unfortunate truth regarding regulations that set construction requirements is that they only outline minimum requirements and setting low bars does not encourage industry culture to excel. If developers only aim to reach minimum standards, then there are going to be some cases where they unintentionally fall short. If they aim to exceed the standards, then a mistake or two is unlikely to take them below the lowest level and consistent, substantial defects are unlikely to be an issue. Policymakers have had faith in the building industry to address its inadequacies and meet consumer expectations. It’s time they repaid that faith with a cultural shift towards a higher benchmark.

Recent research has suggested that better, more detailed design could prevent more than half of the total defects, but it is often one of the first things to be scrapped due to its expense. Without these extensive specifications, issues such as water ingress become more prevalent. Considering strata title schemes that are three storeys or more are not captured under the QBCC statutory Home Warranty Scheme, the discovery of defects places many bodies corporate in a highly uncertain position, where their only option in the case of defects is to take legal action. We believe that altering the statutory insurance scheme to include strata buildings over this arbitrary three-storey limit would be a sensible move allowing for owners to be better protected. Of additional benefit would be increasing the 6-year 6-month deadline for defect claims to ten years, thereby granting consumers extra time to discover these defects and begin the lengthy claims process.

Strata owners would also profit from more accountability on the certifier, builder, and developer by way of increasing obligations at the first Annual General Meeting of a scheme or at the time of CMS registration. Consumers could even be saved from unnecessary expenses by, for example, requiring an original owner (developer) to hand over all development approvals relevant to the development work associated with the constructions of the building/s, creation of the lots, and the establishment of the scheme.

Simon-Barnard-Circle Finding solutions, not defendants.

Simon Barnard is the Managing Director and Principal of Hartley’s Body Corporate Management which is a medium sized strata firm established in 2004 at Sherwood and now operating out of Graceville, Newstead, North Lakes and Bribie Island. Simon is in his 6th year as President of the Board of Strata Community Australia (QLD) and was recently recognised for his service to the industry with a fellowship of the organisation and Life Membership.

Simon also is a past board member on the SCA National Board and is engaged at an International level through many consultative groups and associations. He meets regularly with the Industry Stakeholders group which is convened by the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management and the Office of the Attorney General and actively engages at all levels of government.

Simon has recently been invited to represent the Strata industry on the QLD Government Ministerial Housing Consultative Committee tasked with advising on developing and delivering quality housing outcomes for people and communities. His contributions at an International, National and State level involve working with key stakeholders and government to ensure lot owners, industry employees, suppliers and Bodies Corporate needs are addressed through Government policy reform, education and training.