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13 Jul 2017

Strata warning over renovations and upgrades in Aussie towers

THE terror of London’s Grenfell Tower fire should be a wakeup call for Australian unit owners, experts warn, with some buildings already known to be non-compliant.

Archers the Strata Professionals director Colin Archer said owners should be investigating fire safety compliance of their buildings.

Among those who should re-evaluate were people who had renovated or upgraded their apartment or building, he said.

“Many people will put in a security door, install or remove internal partitions, or have a deadlock or peephole installed, without realising this could interfere with the doors fire-safety, rendering it non-compliant with regulations.”

“We recommend before any planned changes to a building are set in stone, particularly amendments to stairwells and lifts, a private certifier should be engaged to ensure the changes will not impinge on fire safety.”

Mr Archer said it was cladding that caused the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne’s Docklands just three years ago, where the cost was estimated at $15million or $50,000 per apartment.

The Insulated Panel Council Australasia said Queensland’s laws involving high rise building safety were beefed up as recently as May by the State Parliament.

The new laws were designed to prevent the use of non-conforming construction products in Queensland and lower the risk of building fires, according to IPCA chief executive Ron Lawson.

“That’s not to say fires can’t happen, but we as an industry are doing everything we can to minimise the risk. Building regulations should improve safety, health and amenity. Getting legislators to put rules in place and then industry following them with the rules or legislation being enforced, is crucial to building safety and that’s what is happening.”

He said “audits have already been done on cladding materials used in high-rise buildings in Australia”, and acknowledged there were some non-compliant buildings that were not built to code.

“We don’t need new audits of those buildings as has been suggested, but we could have better qualified people take another look at them and make recommendations on prioritising the replacement of non-compliant material,” he said.

Mr Archer warned that bodies corporate needed to know what their situation was, regardless of whether the remedy came at a substantial cost or valuation downgrade to the building.

“We will closely monitor the dilemma facing legislators in coming to a workable solution to provide tighter regulation, knowing that in instances where the building products are found to be faulty after the expiry of the defects period there is unlikely to be any building insurance remedy, with the repair cost to be at the owners’ expense.”

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