Reconstruction work inside a Melbourne apartment building damaged by a combustible cladding fire in 2018. (ABC News: James Oaten)
Owners of apartments affected by the cladding crisis in Victoria have told researchers of the emotional toll it has taken on them.
- Apartment owners affected by combustible cladding are experiencing financial stress
- Some apartments have been deemed almost uninsurable or the owners have seen massive increases in premiums
- There are concerns some affected owners may be suicidal
To cope with the financial stress, some owners have delayed their retirement, while others have borrowed money to cover massive increases in insurance premiums.
Others have told of their concerns for neighbours who may be at risk of suicide because of the impact of the issue.
The information comes from research undertaken by the RMIT’s School of Property, Construction and Project Management, conducted by Dr Trivess Moore and Dr David Oswald.
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“There is information emerging about the scale of the potential financial costs of combustible cladding,” Dr Moore told 7.30.
“But what we haven’t yet heard is the social impact.
“It’s not just the financial effect we need to address — we need to bring the voices of the people impacted and their lived experience into this discussion.
“We have had reports from some of the interviewees that they are concerned that some neighbours they know may be suicidal because of this issue.”
Dr Moore said residents also spoke of their concern about the range of other defects in apartments, including a lack of waterproofing and water ingress.
‘Things need to change’
Craig Fitch is facing major repairs to the development his apartment is in. (ABC News: James Oaten)
Residents of a Frankston South building affected by combustible cladding said the issue, as well as a laundry list of other defects in their complex, had caused them major emotional and financial stress.
“I think this has probably been the worst 10 months of my life, putting up with this,” owner Kerry Ould told 7.30.
“You buy the biggest thing of your life and you have got zip consumer protection. Nothing.
“You have to fight.”
Another owner, Craig Fitch, decided to speak out about the flaws despite being aware that identifying his building could affect its resale value.
“Things need to change,” he said.
“Sometimes you need to think a little less about yourself and try and get an overall result for the whole of Victoria really.”
Mr Fitch and the other owners at the Frankston South complex will be among the first to benefit from a Victorian Government scheme which pays for the removal of combustible cladding on the building.
But they still face millions of dollars in repairs on other building defects and are now suing the builder to recover costs arising from the disastrous development.
“I’ve worked with lots and lots of good tradesmen and good builders and they shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush but they need to weed them out,” Mr Fitch said.
“The regulator just needs to get better and get rid of the rubbish out of the industry.”
Governments’ cladding responses mixed
Cladding of a multi-storey Melbourne apartment complex on fire in February 2019. (Twitter: Bekah Jayne)
The Victorian government has put $600 million towards a project to identify and replace dangerous cladding and has vowed to pursue dodgy builders who installed it.
Other states are less advanced, with concerns raised around the delay in action on the issue in NSW.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has been particularly vocal.
“In New South Wales, there’s not one cent that’s come forward from the state government to help property owners,” he told 7.30.
“There’s no public register, we don’t even have a set of guidelines to identify what property owners need to do to make their properties safe.
“This is a problem created by bad government, by deregulation and privatisation. And that’s why I believe government has to be part of the solution.”
Mr Shoebridge said the NSW government was refusing to make a register of affected buildings public.
“I find it astounding,” he said.
“We’re two and a half years post that tragedy in Grenfell and we still don’t have a public register in New South Wales, we still don’t have a comprehensive system to identify buildings at risk of flammable cladding.”
The NSW government has previously advised councils to cite a terror risk to keep flammable cladding locations secret from the public. Many owners also fear the potential hit to the value of their investment, if its cladding status is made public.
Residents in 37 apartment complexes across Sydney have been advised remediation work to remove some or all of the combustible cladding on their buildings will need to take place.
NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the government was approaching this issue “practically and diligently”.
“We have prioritised high-rise residential buildings for assessment with local councils, who are making every effort to see assessments done as soon as possible,” he told 7.30 in a statement.
“Every day we clear more buildings and learn more about the buildings requiring remediation work.
“I want to make it clear, residents are not in any immediate danger as a result of living in one of these buildings. Extra fire safety measures have been put in place to protect residents until buildings can be cleared or remediated.”
‘There’s thousands of cases out there’
Roscon general manager Sahil Bhasin said replacing cladding was a huge expense to builders. (ABC News)
7.30 has heard from dozens of Australians who have been hit with huge bills from major building defects, who say they had little to no consumer protection in buying their biggest asset.
“We are seeing more and more defects. And that’s due to the products that are being used,” said Sahil Bhasin, general manager of Roscon, a business that conducts defect reports.
“There’s thousands of cases out there, however they just aren’t publicised in the media, that’s the problem, because they don’t result in people being displaced.
“However, when you look at commercial buildings, when you look at factories and you look at domestic dwellings that aren’t complete, there are thousands of cases out there.”