Shock bill blow for cracking Sydney apartment owners
APARTMENT owners in the troubled Mascot Towers will be forced to foot a hefty bill to pay for structural repairs as the tower development is too old to come under warranty protection, it was claimed today. SUBSCRIBE FOR THE DETAILS.
Building defects in NSW are covered under manufacturer warranty for six years after construction. Following this, the burden of paying for all repairs falls to the owners.
Those who own their apartments in the 10-year-old Mascot Towers will now be faced with a hefty bill, likely paid for with compulsory strata levies.
An owner's rights advocate has told the ABC that owners in poorly constructed buildings that show signs of damage after the warranty period of six years has lapsed will find themselves footing the bill for hefty structural building repairs.
"Consumers have nowhere to go in these sorts of situations, there's nobody for them to sue, there's nowhere for them to turn," Stephen Goddard, a spokesman for the Owners Corporation Network, told the ABC.
"Anybody looking to purchase in a building less than 10 years of age is foolish because the defects will not have yet surfaced.
"People have more consumer protection buying a fridge than a million-dollar apartment."
Mr Goddard said prospective buyers should not assume any modern apartment building had been built to code and advised against buying off the plan.
MASCOT UNIT 'RIDDLED WITH CRACKS'
An apartment inside the evacuated Mascot Towers has been riddled with cracks, as engineers investigate whether the groundwater level just 1.5m below the basement carpark may have added to the damage.
Planning Minister Rob Stokes would not comment on ongoing groundwater problems, saying it was not in his portfolio, as police were called to calm simmering tensions and residents looked for answers.
Owners were told on Sunday that engineers would be assessing Mascot Towers for at least five to seven days.
A message played over the building's PA on Sunday telling anyone still inside to "please evacuate now", as the main and side entrances were boarded up and the garage entry locked and guarded.
One unit owner, RJ, said he repeatedly told Bayside Council and the building manager his apartment was shaking during excavation work for the neighbouring Peak Towers block.
Images from inside his unit show cracks above windows, door frames and in the ceiling.
"Our building shook and cracked, even during initial drilling, but nothing was done to rectify or stop it," RJ said.
The evacuation has also caused headaches for cafes and restaurants on the ground floor of the building.
At an Oporto outlet on the ground floor, an angle grinder had to be used to cut through a lock on the front door as access from behind the shopfront had been blocked.
Anil Singh, who owns an Indian restaurant in the building, said his young family was deeply stressed by the ordeal and had lost thousands of dollars by being evacuated over the weekend.
"We're not sure in the insurance company is going to cover it," Mr Singh said.
Residents also told how the basement carpark was "pretty much flooded" during the Peak Towers excavation.
Engineers said that because the area sits on the sandy Botany Aquifer, work on new buildings must be done behind a steel sheet pipe wall to block groundwater while the foundations are laid. The water also needs to be pumped away.
Real estate agent John Higgins, who sold most of the Mascot Towers apartments and has been involved since it was built about a decade ago, believes the 11-storey Peak Towers, still under construction, may be responsible.
"To my knowledge the water table is 2m-2.5m below here so they have been dewatering (removing excessive water from the base of the building) for the past year and a half," he said.
He said it may have undermined the structural integrity of Mascot Towers.
"The building has been sitting there quite comfortably for 12 years so why now?" he said.
The Land and Environment Court approved Peak Towers after an independent planning panel rejected it in 2015 because of lack of sun for many of the apartments.
Documents show the NSW Office of Water approved the development after being satisfied that works dealt with the groundwater issues across the site at depths from 1.4m-1.6m below natural ground level.
No one from developer Aland could be contacted for comment.
JUST ENOUGH TIME TO GRAB THEIR PETS
Tamiris Coutinho and Fabiano Santos left with just their dog, seven cats and the clothes on their backs when they were evacuated from their fifth-floor Mascot Towers apartment on Friday night.
Now, staying on the couch at a friend's place, they are desperately seeking answers while fears grow that the new home they bought three months ago is plummeting in value.
"Who is going to want to buy this apartment now?" Ms Coutinho asked. "We're getting no information, I've tried to call the strata four times today."
Mr Santos believes the damage to the building is linked to water which began flowing into the basement carpark during excavation for a residential tower next door. "Our carpark was pretty much flooded," he said.
Mr Santos said they are now hearing their strata insurance will not cover the damage or their out-of-pocket expenses.
"We pay $2000 (per quarter) for strata fees - to find out bloody management has insurance that's not going to cover us is crazy," he said.
A spokesman for Strata Choice, which manages Mascot Towers, said on Sunday he was not authorised to comment.
The couple said they and their jack russell, Olivia, and seven rescue cats are all showing signs of stress.
"We can't stay there forever," Ms Coutinho said of her friend's house.
Earlier on Sunday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state government had more work to do to strengthen strata legislation to protect owners and tenants after hundreds of residents were evacuated from Mascot Towers.
Furious residents were forced to evacuate the apartment complex on Friday night due to concerns over cracking in the slab beams which provide support.
Occupants of Mascot Towers on Bourke Street, Mascot were given just "50 minutes" to evacuate about 7pm.
However the Premier on Sunday stopped short of offering assistance to hundreds of displaced residents, saying it was important to get to the "root cause" of the issue first.
"Do we need to do more, of course because we know given the number of strata buildings and people who live in them, they want to ensure their rights are protected and it's an ongoing work in progress for us," Ms Berejiklian.
She vowed the government would "hold everybody to account" once the cause of the cracking is known.
"We're doing everything we can to support all residents in these circumstances and more important trying to get on the front foot to ensure these type of situations don't arise in the future," she said.
"Of course all of us are concerned to learn about what happened on Friday evening.
"This was not a new building … it's been opened for more than a decade and we need to find out the root cause."
Ms Berejiklian said NSW Fair Trading will be able to assist residents when emergency service workers leave the site.
She also said the NSW government would appoint a Building Commissioner "in the near future".
The Commissioner will be responsible for auditing people who work in the industry.
Many residents left the Towers on Friday night carrying their pets and suitcases as they were taken to the rear of a building nearby.
NSW Fire and Rescue Superintendent Adam Dewberry said there was a concern mortar could "dislodge" on the side of the high-rise as there had been movement detected in the building.
"A consideration is falling debris which we're taking precautions for," he said.
A note to residents from the building manager said there had been "cracking" in a "transfer slab beam" which required the evacuation of 96 units across two towers by 9pm on Friday.
"The building's engineer has carried out a site inspection this afternoon regarding cracking in the transfer slab beams supporting the primary building corner," the note said.
"Following this inspection the engineer has raised concerns over the safety for residents in the building."
The note said both the strata and building management decided to alert emergency services.
"It has been determined that there will be a partial evacuation of the building, pending further monitoring of the transfer beams over the course of the next week.
"This will determine if the building is safe for reoccupation.
"For owners, at this stage it is unknown if there is any insurance coverage for temporary accommodation."
Multiple residents told The Daily Telegraph cracks had emerged in the car park below.
Unit owner Rosalyn Lean, 65, said she was worried the incident could turn into a repeat of the Opal Tower debacle.
Dozens of residents were evacuated from the Opal Tower in Sydney Olympic Park on Christmas Eve after some reported hearing cracking noises. Many of the units remain vacant.
"In the last few hours the cracks have got bigger in the car park," Ms Lean said.
A police spokesman said there was "no immediate risk of a building collapse".
Violeta Adriaan, 35, said she was "very annoyed" as she clutched her suitcases while leaving. "They just said look for friends or family (for accommodation)," she said.
UPDATE TO RESIDENTS