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Buying or selling? Get the right advice

Shock Report: Canberra’s Apartments are Dodgy

By Trev - 21 May 2010 34

Scary report here on the ABC quoting both ACTPLA and the Owners Corporation Network … but maybe it’s only scary for me, considering I’m in the market for my very first apartment!

The OCN reckons that there are widespread safety and quality problems with Canberra’s newer apartments, but I’ve heard horror stories associated with developments from well before that time, particularly for people who bought off the plan.

There was another interesting case where a car caught fire (for all I know it was set alight) in an undercroft carpark under some then-new apartments in the inner north. I know this is hearsay, but it seems that there were insufficient fire exits for the apartments directly above, and that some residents were forced to shinny down the balconies to get out. Happy to be contradicted if that’s completely untrue, but it’s a scary story nevertheless.

Apparently the ACT doesn’t have a system of independent building inspectors, meaning that Canberra’s builders are basically a self-regulating body who can put up whatever they like. That’s not so bad if they’re building stuff that’s high-quality, but it’s quite scary in the light of recent allegations allegations of 50+ kilogram chunks of glass dropping from four stories and above.

Has anybody had any horror experiences? Do I sign on the dotted line, or not?

What’s Your opinion?

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34 Responses to
Shock Report: Canberra’s Apartments are Dodgy
2604 8:48 am 22 May 10

Trev – as a former apartment owner and someone who has had dealings with the OCN, my advice is not to consider purchasing a Canberra apartment. The fact is that Canberra builders, even the big ones, are not competent enough to build apartment blocks that don’t leak or subside, and that you will have close to zero effective way to deal with any problems that emerge.

I would especially steer clear of anything built or developed by the following builders and developers.

– DOMA (who developed the Viridian at Kingston Foreshore – the “ensuite with no waterproofing” place referred to in the ABC report)
– Chase (who built Viridian)
– St Hilliers (who developed the Gateway at Kingston Foreshore)
– Consolidated Builders (who developed the Landmark at Barton, which is the building referred to in the ABC report where all those glass panels are splitting and falling off)
– Lend Lease (who built the Gateway and Landmark)

You are infinitely better off saving your money and purchasing a 10-20 year old house, where you will at least get the assurance of a building inspection report and be able to inspect the place before you buy.

The cat did it 10:56 pm 21 May 10

Neil Savery should go into politics- he could give give Joe Hockey a good run for his money in the stonewalling and issue-avoiding department. Maybe someone in the Canberra Times (if anyone is left there) should do an article on how inspections got privatised- then we’ll know which pollies, or ex-pollies, to call to account.
The other part of this that really annoys me is that I could do an acceptable standard job, ie meet all building, electrical and plumbing regulations etc, but am legally prevented from doing so, while clearly deficient tradies continue to operate with impunity, leaving tenants and owners to pick up the tab for their shoddy work.

Trev 10:02 pm 21 May 10

Hi Tronnie,
That’s quite a story about the development in Dickson … I never knew there was a car fire in that complex.
Your story about that fellow losing his car is a sad one!
I was actually referring to a car-in-undercroft fire in Ijong St Braddon during (if memory serves) 2005. That one caused quite a lot of damage and the car-depdendent residents who were parked underneath at the time were massively dicked around by their insurance companies (or so the story goes).

georgesgenitals 9:07 pm 21 May 10

vg said :

Its not isolated to apartments. The building work of some of Canberra’s ‘reputable’ builders is amazingly poor. We are having to have our builder back 5 years later under the 10 year construction warranty to fix things. He is in denial that there are issues, but we get actual professionals in to assess the issue beforehand and seemingly only the constant threat of legal action gets his fat ass in to fix it.

Lets just say that I would never allow a builder born in, shall we say, central Europe, anywhere near a house of mine again. I actually fear something catastrophic will happene to the building one day. If its any consolation we will be long gone

And we’re back to the problem of certifiers. I agree, though, many builders in this town are rubbish, and it seems many of their tradies are even worse.

vg 8:38 pm 21 May 10

Its not isolated to apartments. The building work of some of Canberra’s ‘reputable’ builders is amazingly poor. We are having to have our builder back 5 years later under the 10 year construction warranty to fix things. He is in denial that there are issues, but we get actual professionals in to assess the issue beforehand and seemingly only the constant threat of legal action gets his fat ass in to fix it.

Lets just say that I would never allow a builder born in, shall we say, central Europe, anywhere near a house of mine again. I actually fear something catastrophic will happene to the building one day. If its any consolation we will be long gone

Tronnie 7:16 pm 21 May 10

Hi Trev and all. I live in the apartments you mention, in Dickson, and woke to the sound of the alarm and the sight of the black smoke billowing out from the car set alight directly under our building. It would appear likely (although I am speculating) that the same person who set the car alight also set the Vietnamese restaurant alight about a week prior to that. What kind of a person would do that to another person’s property? I did hear on the grapevine that the poor guy whose car was set alight had no insurance (it was his first car) and was quite devastated.

Anyway, rest assured, there is absolutely no truth to the rumour that there were insufficient fire exits for the apartments. My partner and I left, easily, down the internal fire stairs.

Interestingly, it was actually two police officers driving past who stopped and started to put out the fire before the firies arrived. The firies, as always, did an amazing job and put out the fire almost immediately. I know that the firies have their own concerns in relation to the poor design of the fire systems of modern apartments, but this is not unique to the Berra.

The reason my partner and I were concerned was not in relation to blocked fire exits, or insufficient numbers of them, but in relation to all the other residents (60 + people) staying inside their apartments due to the staggering numbers of false alarms over recent months. This is a consequence of a poorly functioning fire alarm inside one of the pizza restaurants that shall remain nameless.

In regards to your other comment about people having to come in and out of balconies. This made me smile. I was again, at home, when the firies had to attend our same building because some git (and that is being kind) locked himself out of his apartment and his girlfriend had the key and was interstate. Why the firies had to attend this non-emergency on a busy Saturday night is anyone’s guess, but that is the cause of your rumour. A fire truck, lights ablaze, and silly boy climbing down a ladder in full sight of all the restaurants no doubt caused alarm to some….

Now… don’t get me started on the outrageous costs of body corporate fees in apartments in Canberra…. 🙂

moneypenny2612 6:54 pm 21 May 10

I know that the Lagani unit complex in Braddon is a lemon. It was built in the early 2000s (I think) and it leaks like a seive. A couple of the apartments have been sold in fire-sales in the past couple of years because the owners corp was trying to organise itself to sue the builders for defective workmanship – and doing so by imposing a massive special levy on unit holders. I know this because I inspected one of the flats that was being sold. You only need to drive by to see obvious problems with the outside of the building.

Amazingly – and for reasons not totally clear to me – it had taken the Lagani owners corp more than 5 years to get their act together to sue the builders. In the couple of years since I walked through, I do not know what has happened with that particular block of units.

It was a useful warning because it seems serious defects can be hard to rectify if there is no unity among unit holders. A bit of a crap shoot by the sounds of it.

54-11 6:48 pm 21 May 10

Remember that the great humanitarian, Josip Zivko (of Narrabundah Caravan Park fame) was the one that stopped the non-compliant Quayside project from going ahead. With the public interest being protected by defenders of the faith such as Josip, then we can all feel as relaxed as Neil Savery is about parting with many hundreds of thousands of our hard-earned to buy into these Canberra apartments.

Remember that we can trust all these builders and developers to have the public interest rather than profit at heart (as Josip has shown), that they can always be trusted to honour their legal and moral obligations to home buyers, and that they will always build to the highest possible standards (as Savery has repeatedly assured us). Of course.

ace666 6:10 pm 21 May 10

If you are lucky eneogh to have a reputable builder you might be OK. Or if you know tradesmen who still do good work. (Not many left)
I have worked on some shody projects.It’s all about the money baby.
My feeling is, these days, any dept with a regulatory role is for show only.

54-11 5:46 pm 21 May 10

GG, it’s a dirty little business (here in the ACT and in other jurisdictions that do the same), with dirty little relationships, and the watchdog has gone completely AWOL.

54-11 5:25 pm 21 May 10

I’m glad you posted this, Trev – I had jusr submitted a post on the same topic.

ACTPLA is still refusing to accept that it’s failed experiment with external certifiers is an unmitigated failure. More and more unit owners and occupiers are being faced with expensive and dangerous flaws that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

To it’s credit, the Master Builders Association accepts that better training of builders is required. However, the major underlying problem is the system of private certification. When these were first proposed several years ago, community groups such as the LAPACs warned ACTPLA that standards would inevitably fall. As has clearly happened.

ACTPLA’s Neil Savery continues to bury his head in the sand, saying that it is not his job “to investigate the personal arrangements between the builder, the developer and the certifier”. What an extraordinary dereliction of his duty – ACTPLA is in overall charge of this (dysfunctional) certification process, yet refuses to do anything about what has become a multi-million dollar scandal in the apartment building industry.

It’s about time that ACTPLA and Savery started to live up the statutory responsibilities that are required of them.

georgesgenitals 4:51 pm 21 May 10

I understand that building certifiers aren’t as independent as they could be, and sometimes don’t even physically attend the building…

Daspuck 4:37 pm 21 May 10

Apartment horror stories? Oh I have plenty:( But the worst one-

I’m not sure if it is the same apartment complex as the one mentioned, but I did live in one where the carpark was set on fire; When looking to have repairs done it was noted that the original carpark specs were non compliant to correct standards. For the amount of cars that it could house, apparently it needed more ventilation, OR a superior sprinkler system.

Given it’s sort of hard to put in more ventilation in an already built apartment block underground carpark, the only solution was to install a sprinkler system, but the costs required to fit the carpark with one were going to be ridiculously high, AND passed on to the apartment owners. Until then, my understanding was the carpark was deemed unsafe and therefore unable to be accessed.

It posed a really tricky question- WHO was actually to blame? The builders? Those who approved the building in the first place? The building inspector who approved it for sale to me in the first place? My lawyer? ME?!

In the end I sold up at a considerably lower price because of the carpark, but am glad I did- This occurred in 2005.. from driving past there it seems that they still haven’t been able to resolve this issue?:(

ThatGuy 4:16 pm 21 May 10

It might not be a safety issue – but sound proofing seems to be an impossibility with these new apartments. I lived in Sydney for two years, right next to a train station, along a major road, underneath a flight path, and yet that place was still quieter than my friend’s newish apartment in Belco.

daedalus 3:40 pm 21 May 10

I’ve almost finished my first year of renting my first apartment, and I have to say it’s definitely true that building quality is of little concern. So many shortcuts to save money.

We had a major problem during the last major rain, where the tiny shower-sized drain on our balcony got covered by a single oak tree leaf, and I came home to work to find that the balcony had flooded and the carpet inside sopping wet.

Prior to that, we had a moisture issue where the soil for the garden outside was right up against our wall, and when it rained too much the water just seeped through the wall into the floor and carpet there too, because they hadn’t taken the time to ensure the plastic sheeting between the soil and wall was properly in place.

Still, there isn’t much you can do when you need a place to live and can’t afford a house…

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