29 October 2021

Just live with it? Owners Corporation responds to combustible cladding find

| Lottie Twyford
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The ACT Government is providing financial support to rectify the presence of combustible cladding. Photo: ACT Government.

Residents of one Canberra apartment building are concerned that after combustible cladding was found on their building, the onus is being placed on them to ensure their own safety.

The Owners Corporation of Stromlo Terrace Apartments wrote to residents to advise that the rules of the building needed to be modified “in line with recommendations made in a flammable cladding assessment report of the building”.

In the letter, it’s alleged the risk of the cladding has been assessed as “moderate”.

But residents are now asked to refrain from using a barbecue, an outdoor heater, smoking and storing an ashtray or using any other heat source on their balcony. New emergency evacuation plans will also be implemented.

However, Vantage Strata managing director Chris Miller said implementing measures such as these could be necessary and appropriate in the instance of the discovery of such cladding while the process of replacing it was undertaken.

Mr Miller explained that discovering combustible cladding would be a challenge to every Owners Corporation because the process of replacing it is long, complex and costly.

He said Executive Committees faced with this challenge would have “a duty to prioritise matters between what can reasonably be done immediately to protect life and property, and what could be achieved eventually given sufficient time”.

“Replacing cladding is a long-term proposition that will require planning, funding, government approvals and resolutions made by a majority of owners,” he said.

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Mr Miller explained that because most of these elements have their processes set out in legislation, it can take months and years to complete.

“In the meantime, it is appropriate, and likely necessary, that the committee takes measures that are available to it, such as requiring residents to modify their behaviour despite any possible inconvenience.”

Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti has repeatedly said that the responsibility for cladding lies with the building owner.

She said she was “glad that private apartment building owners are taking action on their buildings and are ensuring that rectification work can begin”.

The ACT Government is currently running a Private Buildings Cladding Scheme to help building owners test whether their building has combustible cladding.

“We are calling for private owner corporations and apartment building owners to address combustible cladding,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“We need to hear from Owners Corporations and Strata Managers of apartment buildings with cladding so that we can help them identify the fire risk that cladding on their building may pose and help them ensure the safety of residents.”

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The scheme, which began in July, is currently in phase one with a government rebate of up to $20,000 available. The second phase will likely provide building owners with concessional loans if further remediation works are required.

In Budget hearings last week, officials said the details of the second phase cannot yet be released as they are dependent on the information gathered in the first phase, such as the scope of the remedial works.

Potentially combustible cladding materials consisting of either aluminium composite panels or expanded polystyrene came to global attention when the Grenfell tower fire killed 72 people in 2017 in London.

It has previously been revealed that some building owners in Canberra were being forced to replace the building’s cladding to retain or gain insurance.

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I was recently inquiring about an apartment for purchase in a combustible cladding affected building in the ACT. When I asked the agent about the remediation plan (or lack thereof) by the OC, of said cladding, she informed me that “It is totally normal to spend an extra $100 000 on an apartment”, and that it is “Not an issue”. She was hesitant in forthcoming deeper investigation information of the BC minutes in this building.
Im educated about the cladding issue and it’s impacts, estate agents are blatantly covering up the truth. Get informed and BUYER BEWARE.

Removal of flammable cladding is necessary or buildings won’t be able to renew their insurance cover. Until the long process of removal and rectification is complete, BBQs are banned, which is tough on residents. Not an expert but understand the aluminium exterior decorative cladding panels are filled with highly flammable polystyrene. Made in China, banned in Europe after Grenfell, sold in Australia until building codes changed. I see similarities to the Mr Fluffy debacle.

Capital Retro8:04 am 27 Oct 21

The next high impact bushfire that will rip through Canberra will be in about 20 years so there should be plenty of time to replace the cladding. The question is, what will they replace it with?

Capital Retro6:34 pm 26 Oct 21

I wonder how high rise unit blocks with combustible cladding in Canberra are going to handle bushfires like the 2003 one, especially if fire tornadoes impact on them?

We have seen the destruction caused to one London high rise block with combustible cladding in calm and cool conditions in London so imagine what will happen in Canberra when the temperature is over 40 and the north westerly winds are blowing at gale force.

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