Building defects

Building defects in Australia and internationally: What sets us apart? What might make for a better future?

July 15, 2022

At the end of an international conference on strata, with academics from nine countries on four continents, I imagined I would write about the cross-country similarities of strata community issue. And I could; there are many. However, sadly, there is something more important to write about, that sets England and Australia apart…and not in a good way. As noted by a senior Oxford law professor in attendance at the strata conference I’ve just returned from, England and Australia are the only two countries with a true residential tower building defect crisis.

And it begs the question why?

The obvious answer is that these countries, more than others, have spent the last 30 years embracing the neo liberal ideals of regulatory light touch. This goes for most things, and most definitely building and construction. The neo liberal approach to building and construction regulation inAustralia meant we enthusiastically welcomed private certification, with certifiers appointed by developers. They lacked enforcement of professional standards and licensing conditions. Australia’s National Constructions Code set minimum building standards and ‘alternative solutions’, rather than the definitive,‘must be done this way’ mandates of by-gone years – where the building site foreman knew what to enforce, and who’s shoulder to look over.

Happily, as I was able to report in my conference presentation<Lacrosse: The Fire, The Fallacy, and The Fallout> there are signs that the tide is finally turning against the failed neo liberal building regulation regime, to a more interventionist approach. In New South Wales, the Building Commissioner has been appointed as site foreman, and the new standards being enforced by the Commissioner’s office are stated in published guidelines, training modules, onsite inspection reports, stop work orders and enforceable undertakings. Not to mention, these new enforcement methods are breathtaking. Notably,

·  Building plans and patterns must be registered on a portal before work commences and within 2 days of any amendments.

·  On-site inspections are conducted more frequently to catch and rectify bad work in progress. Work is being stopped inits tracks if it looks like breaches aren’t or can’t be remedied.

·  The Building Commissioner is active almost daily on social media, using LinkedIn to praise those doing the right thing, and callout bad practice when needed.

·  The Building Commissioner is also championing anew quality assurance rating tool, iCERT (Independent Construction IndustryRating Tool). iCERT gives developers, builders, and consultants a rating between1 and 5 stars, informed from an objective and independent assessment across 6 categories:capability, conduct, character, capacity, capital, and counter parties. Where builders have used the tool, the Building Commissioner is acknowledging them. Where it hasn’t been used, he is suggesting that it should.

Time will tell if the Building Commissioner’s momentum for change can be maintained, leading to the changes desperately needed. He has the tools at his disposal to do the job and the early signs look very encouraging. Me? I look forward to future international conferences on multi owned property and building standards, where we will be able to report that New South Wales and Australia have led the way to better outcomes for apartment owners.

Image source: Daily Telegraph

Michael Teys

Strata expert

Michael is a strata expert with over 30 years experience in strata law and management. He is a strata researcher with City Futures Research Centre UNSW, a consultant to strata industry suppliers, and conducts executive education for strata managers and property processionals.