Cladding confusion continues

We Live Here has been inundated with complaints that it has been almost impossible to get accurate, consistent information about cladding and how to address the issue.

Owners’ corporations (OCs) have been telling us they are getting mixed messages about whether there is a cladding issue at all. 

Is our building on a danger list or not? Some buildings just could not find out what was going on. And other buildings not “on the list” were misled into inaction.

The whole issue has been managed by the authorities in an ad hoc, shambolic fashion. Owners have suffered from incompetence at all levels of government. Issues include:

Lack of communication to residents and owners;

Poor communication between the government and councils;

No guidelines; and

Rapidly shifting approaches by municipal building surveyors. 

How many of you received a building notice as a Christmas present from your local council grinch?

Yes, that’s what happened. Late last year, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) and the Municipal Association of Victoria pressured councils to act before Christmas against high-rise buildings with “inappropriate use” of cladding.

The councils responded with a Santa-sack of building notices.

Waiting, waiting …

Let’s go back to this time one year ago when the CEO of the VBA said: “I understand you might be worried about this issue and I assure you that we are working with owners’ corporations, fire authorities, local councils and other government bodies to help you and to address this issue as quickly as possible.”

If you were lucky, you would have received a postcard from the VBA with this statement in February 2018. Some of us got nothing – until the building notice.

Since then, hapless high-rise owners have been needing information and direction on what to do.

We Live Here does have some good news. The VBA has now updated its website with more detailed information. Google “VBA assessing and fixing cladding”. You will find a step by step process outlined.

What is not on the website is the expected timeframe. 

Our members are telling us that, start-to-finish, the process is measured in years, not months. 

The VBA website says every building over three storeys will be assessed for unsafe cladding, and is offering free tests to determine if your cladding is combustible.

This could save your owners’ corporation thousands of dollars, but is of no help to those who’ve muddled out for themselves how to go about it.

Who’s next on the cladding hit-list?

The VBA will prioritise buildings for inspection based on several factors, including “intelligence from local councils”, if you can forgive the oxymoron.

Put a fire risk management plan in place NOW

We Live Here encourages all high-rise apartment buildings to implement a fire risk management plan NOW. This will help you avoid getting emergency orders. The plan should set out all the management steps you have implemented to make your building safe while the assessment is being carried out. 

Properly managed, you can get through the whole cladding resolution process with only a building notice, not a building order.

Parliament shapes up

We were pleased to see the Transport Matters Party elected to parliament. We are looking forward to seeing the approach it takes because of the number of parallels between ride-sharing and short-stays.

Living under the Airbnb Bill 

High-rise residents will soon be subjected to the limitations of the so-called Airbnb Bill, set to become law on February 1, 2019.

Short-stay guests trash your building? $10,000 damage? $20,000 damage? 

Bad luck, the maximum you’ll get is $2000. And under the Airbnb Act you cannot seek redress from the owner of the apartment – you’ll have to chase the overseas visitor who probably just skipped the country. 

Airbnb crime and damage has been on a sharp uptick – have a look at our website for links to the latest media stories on the wild times in apartments and our suburbs. How this equates to the “rare instances of bad behaviour or unruly parties”, cited by the government as the reasons for bringing in this “Trojan Horse” of a Bill after the last election (1).

Members are now asking us for advice about how they can use the new rules to impact on rogue short-stay operations in their building. Our reply is they should direct the question to the Minister for Consumer Affairs as at present there is nothing they can legally do. 

 We Live Here again calls on Daniel Andrews’ government to:

AMEND the Owners Corporation Act 2006 to regulate the short-stay industry;

RESTORE POWERS to OCs to make decisions about use of a lot, lost in Justice Riordan’s Supreme Court decision in July 2017; and 

LISTEN to residents. You did listen to residents down at Apollo Bay. How about up here in Melbourne?

Footnote 1: Press Release May 23, 2016.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts – Minister Garrett has given owners’ corporations a Trojan Horse

Minister’s decision to introduce laws to stamp out bad behaviour in short-term stays will lead to more (not less) “ghettoes in the sky”. 

Campaign donations

As a not-for-profit organisation, donations from individuals and buildings keep our campaigns going. To register as a supporter of We Live Here or to make a donation please visit our website at welivehere.net.

We Live Here does not accept donations from commercial tourism interests. 

We welcome your comments and feedback and invite suggestions for topics you would like us to address in this column.

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