Strata lawyer Tom Bacon says the Victoria Government seems more determined than ever to burden apartment owners with the cost of removing non-compliant cladding.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne on March 10 issued new ministerial guidelines to building surveyors, which ban the most dangerous types of combustible cladding from being used on Victorian buildings.
Aluminium Cladding Panels with a polyethylene core of more than 30 per cent will be banned on all multi-storey buildings. Expanded polystyrene will also be banned.
Mr Wynne has directed the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to issue a product safety alert, and building practitioners who ignore this directive will face disciplinary action from the VBA.
But the minister also said if buildings were found to be non-compliant at a current state-wide audit, the VBA and municipal building surveyors will issue emergency orders.
“These orders are issued on building owners, which are the owners’ corporations,” Mr Bacon said.
“Because these orders are of an emergency nature, in extreme cases, the buildings could be declared uninhabitable until such time as the cladding is removed and replaced.”
“In other situations, the residents might be able to reside there, but only if interim safeguard measures are put in place and the cladding issues are fixed very, very quickly.”
“So it doesn’t leave OCs with much time to seek to join wrongdoers who might be responsible for why the cladding is there in the first place.”
“If the building is over a certain age, or if the legal risks of bringing a claim are too high, then OCs might well have to simply fix the cladding themselves via special levies.”
Mr Bacon said the government seemed determined to protect building surveyors who had originally approved the installation of non-compliant cladding.
“The problem is that if certifiers and building surveyors are hung out to dry, they might simply close their companies and hand back their licences,” Mr Bacon said.
“The state government faces a shortage of qualified surveyors already, and if the industry collapses then the state government and councils will need to step back in and start certifying buildings themselves again, which would be very expensive and then exposes them from a liability perspective.”
He said builders and developers were similarly also not in the firing line.
“The policy reason is that the government must keep ‘building conditions’ optimum for developers and builders so that they continue to build apartment blocks,” Mr Bacon said.
“It’s simple economics. The more apartments, the more stamp duty in the coffers, and it’s not worth upsetting builders and developers by placing the liability at their feet with the cladding issue, for fear that the builders and developers decide to ‘land bank’ and not develop their properties, or go to other states around Australia where it is easier for them to do business.”