12 June 2024

Vassarotti refers Highgate apartments to regulator over defect claims

| Ian Bushnell
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apartment block in the city

Highgate: Morris Property Group said it was working through any issues with the owners corporation. Photo: Region.

The Highgate apartment tower in the city has been referred to the regulator due to safety issues raised in a report that the builder/developer has labelled alarmist.

The 2023 report from engineering consultancy Bligh Tanner alleged dozens of building defects, including unsafe balconies where it warned of loading issues and glass that could eject or shatter.

Morris Property Group said a review it commissioned into the report found the balconies were safe and challenged a number of other alleged defects. Morris said it was working through any issues with the owners corporation.

It had already undertaken multiple inspections and carried out isolated rectification works at the request of individual owners.

READ ALSO Building defects: Broken system in need of repair. Time to bring back public certifiers

However, Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti said that given the seriousness of the safety claims, her team in the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate had referred the matter to Access Canberra for assessment.

Ms Vassarotti said Access Canberra had not received any complaints about the balconies at the property but urged people who are affected to talk to the builder first about any issues they have.

She said the owners corporation could also submit a complaint to Access Canberra, and if defects were found, the regulator had the power to require the builder to fix them.

“I do expect that where defects are identified in buildings, the builder and developer will come together to fix these defects proactively and quickly and make sure that homeowners are not left to deal with these problems,” Ms Vassarotti said.

She said there were statutory warranty provisions to protect unit owners against defective building work up to six years after the completion of a building.

The strata manager at the time, Vantage Strata, commissioned the Bligh Tanner report because the six-year mark for making defect claims was nearing.

The Highgate issue again raises the use of private certifiers in large residential building projects, something the ACT Government promised to address in response to the 2020 report of the Inquiry into Building Quality in the ACT.

The government committed to establishing an expert team of publicly funded building certifiers within the ACT Public Service during this term, but time is running out to do this.

READ ALSO Should the ACT appoint a strata commissioner?

Ms Vassarotti said she would announce this in the coming months after the government engaged external experts to help assess the building certification system and provide possible options, including public certifiers.

“This work on certification will complement the work we are already undertaking to implement a nation-leading Developer Licensing Scheme, which will remove any incentive for property developers to install favourable certifiers and make sure that developers are personally liable for building defects,” she said.

“This work is going ahead and is expected to be debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly in June.”

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Benjamin Thompson9:56 pm 13 Jun 24

However, I must express my disappointment with Minister Vassarotti’s response to these serious issues.

Minister Vassarotti seems indifferent to the genuine concerns of the community. While the legislation appears to offer minimal protection to the public, it is, in reality, designed to safeguard the interests of the building industry. This is evident in the handling of the Highgate case and many others.

Minister Vassarotti has overlooked the quality of ACT certifiers and their crucial role in ensuring confidence in the building industry. The move towards public certifiers has been promised but not delivered, further eroding public trust. There are numerous examples of maladministration within Minister Vassarotti’s directorate, which, coupled with a close relationship with the building industry, is deeply concerning. The minister seems to tolerate this relationship.

With an election approaching, it is clear that voting for the Greens would mean supporting the current state of affairs—protecting the building industry at the expense of consumers. We need sensible independents in this election that prioritises the safety and well-being of its residents over the interests of the building industry and developers.

Raveena Toor1:42 pm 13 Jun 24

In 2023 the Infinity Towers EC lodged a complaint with Access Canberra (the relevant regulator) citing a range of issues re strata conduct with substantial evidence. After it was essentially dismissed by a junior investigator, a more senior investigator was enlisted to investigate. The last correspondence received was over 6 months ago and it’s been determined that the investigator has left the regulator with the complaint falling to the wayside. This is already a highly problematic and unregulated industry with very little recourse open to owners. This level of disengagement and unprofessionalism by the one regulator that exists – funded by the rates that these very owners pay – is appalling.

I built a house 29 years ago that had a number defects in it, the builder had no financial incentative or financial penalty to come back (or force them) and fix them. Great to see nothing has changed in all of those years

Incidental Tourist6:08 pm 12 Jun 24

Greens “solution” is shifting blame with extra layers of bureaucracy. I am sorry for apartment owners. These shoe box apartments cost them a fortune. More bureaucracy will cost them even more.

So, what would be your solution then? Having a regulator that’s willing to pursue builders would be a really good start. We need to emulate what they are doing in New South Wales with a specific regulator looking at strata complexes and with the powers and will to pursue non-compliance including building defects.

At last some action by our ACT Govt, but hopefully not too little too late. It is absolutely appalling that building inspections were outsourced some years ago and we like many other Canberra apartment owners continue to pay the significant financial and emotional costs. This situation must be rectified as a matter of urgency.

Hey! Ms Vassarotti… how about you tell us just how many builders have been referred to the regulator since the Law was passed allowing this to happen… then tell us how many successful legislative actions have been taken in that time. I’ll wait…!

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