Second development given stop work order under Building Commissioner’s audits

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A second building in NSW has been issued with a stop work order in the midst of construction as part of the 42 developments slapped with enforcement orders this year.

The Kogarah Bay property, marketed by real estate agents as “elegant” and “luxury” apartments at a “blue-ribbon” address, was issued the stop work order due to concerns with the building’s waterproofing, fire safety systems and load-bearing certifications.

Nearly two-thirds of all new builds have been audited since Building Commissioner David Chandler took office in 2019.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

The first development to receive a stop work order this year was in Newcastle, with Building Commissioner David Chandler remarking on how dangerous the site was, with noncompliant construction, poor concreting around support beams, and no declared design documentation.

It comes as a new national survey of apartment dwellers found two-thirds would not purchase off the plan if they were to buy another property, raising concerns about defects and holding developers accountable.

Nearly two-thirds of all new builds have been audited since Chandler took office in 2019, with about 10,000 apartments audited before construction began, and a further 27,000 before residents were cleared to move in.

The Australian Apartment Advocacy’s latest survey, set to be released this week, found the number of respondents reporting defects in their buildings has increased from 53 per cent in 2021 to 61 per cent in 2023.

In both surveys, waterproofing and water penetration were the most common defects.

The 2021 survey received 3593 responses from residents in WA, NSW, Victoria and Queensland, while the 2023 survey was nationally representative with nearly 2000 respondents.

Almost 75 per cent of respondents said they wanted their respective state governments to hold the developer more accountable if there are defects and the builder has closed their business, though that number shot up to 86.6 per cent for NSW residents.

Australian Apartment Advocacy Chief Executive Samantha Reece called for even more scrutiny, arguing audits should take place at every major fire, waterproofing and concrete development stage.

“Prevention is better than cure,” she said.

While Executive Director of Master Builders Australia Brian Sielder welcomed measures to reduce the number of defects, he said extra inspections could be costly.

“If there is another layer of inspections, the question is who is going to pay for it. Everyone runs away from taking responsibility,” he said.

He said legislation introduced in 2020 – during Chandler’s appointment – made it mandatory for industry practitioners to ensure designs and building work were compliant with building codes, moving scrutiny to earlier in the building process.

“If the design is not good, another layer of inspection may not pick up those fundamental problems,” he said.

“We need designers and engineers playing bigger roles, so there’s better stuff up front.”

Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Builders Geoff Dart said the focus should be even earlier than the design stage, at licensing.

“Regulators have to be more stringent about how they give a building license to,” he said.

“The lack of regulation, lack of adherence to regulation, and lack of policing lead to overruns and cost blowouts. Buildings aren’t built, companies collapse … it’s like a snowball.”

Last month, Chandler announced plans to double or triple the number of worker audits conducted, to assess up to 7 per cent of all builders and ensure their trade qualifications are up to standard.

He previously warned that five more apartment blocks in NSW may be forced to evacuate due to unrepaired defects, saying it showed the importance of scrutinising every layer of developments.

“We’re looking at builder licenses, and we’re starting [audits] at the design phase,” he said.

“In NSW, we’re way ahead of every other state in Australia.”

Anoulack Chanthivong, the Building Minister and Minister for Fair Trading and Better Regulation, has promised to ramp up the number of early inspections and audits ahead of the new building commission being established later this year.

“Developers are responsible for delivering quality homes, that’s the least owners should be able to expect for making such a big emotional and financial investment,” he said.

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