Would You Like A Roof With That Ceiling

The NSW Minister for Fair Trading Andrew Roberts has picked a fight with strata building defect lawyers.

We are apparently ambulance chasing – exploiting poor defenseless unit owners who have bought into buildings foolishly thinking they were going to get a roof with that ceiling they bought off the plan from the developer!

Ambulance chasing of course describes that practice of following an ambulance to the hospital after an accident and giving the victim a business card for a NO WIN / NO FEE compensation case. These lawyers take large contingency fees from the downtrodden that otherwise could not afford a lawyer. Stereotypically, they also wear ill-fitting suits and are alcoholics.

Without commenting on my sense of dress or drinking habits, the comments by Minister Roberts are odd. There is not the slightest evidence of this practice. There are no ads in the papers or on bus stops soliciting work, there are no firms offering ‘no win no fee’ services, there are no class actions being floated, there is no push by unit owner groups for protection and there is no litigation funding on offer leading to unjustified cases.

On the contrary, there are rules against contingency fees, limitations on spending on legal fees and the need for strata members’ approval for starting legal actions.

If anyone has ever thought getting a group of strata owners to agree to take legal action against a developer was easy pickin’s, then I have not met them in thirty years of being in this space.

The Minister should contemplate this; that a third of the NSW Supreme Court building and construction list is comprised of owners corporations seeking justice against their developers and builders might just have more to do with building practices and standards than lawyers.

Further, the Minister might wish to contemplate that 2/3rds of buildings built since 1997 report major defects (CityFutures, Managing Strata Repairs, July 2009). This may have something to do with private certifiers that have since that time been allowed to approve compliance with building standards despite the conflicts arising from being selected and paid by the developers they judge.

Unit owners do not need any more restrictions on their rights to get what they paid for. When we have so many big issues facing the strata sector at present, this attack is nothing short of bizarre.

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