NSW government to blame for Mascot Towers fiasco, say residents

August 15, 2019
Mascot Towers is just one of a number of apartment blocks found to have building defects in Sydney.

Residents of the troubled Mascot Towers apartment complex have targeted the state Coalition government over a series of building defects they say point to a serious failure in the regulation of construction standards.

Owners and renters from the 132-unit towers, located in the inner-south suburb of Mascot, were ordered to evacuate in June after cracks were found in the buildings foundations.

Residents have been forced to live elsewhere ever since, only being allowed to return briefly to retrieve important possessions.

In a submission to a NSW parliamentary inquiry that began on August 12, a group representing apartment owners said there had been a "multitude of defects" over the past 10 years, even before the cracks emerged, the New Daily reported that day.

The litany of problems with the building included "lukewarm" water all year round, severe stormwater flooding and the incorrect use of electrical cables.

The complex was cleared for occupation despite these faults, the submission stated.

The group blames the state government for a lax regulatory system they said allowed defective buildings to achieve certification and offered little protection to consumers.

They believe the government should therefore take responsibility for repair costs, which could total up to $10 million.

The inquiry into the regulation of building standards, quality and disputes follows a series of construction fiascos at buildings, including Mascot Towers and the Opal Tower in Olympic Park.

In its submission, the Mascot Towers Owners Corporation said owners and residents "relied on the 'system' to provide a satisfactory dwelling," but the state government failed to set a sufficiently tough regulatory framework for builders, certifiers and property developers.

This included the failure of the private building certification process, a lack of supervision over builders and the owners' responsibility for defects.

"Our residents have inherited a building with numerous defects — defects which were originally signed off on by our government, engineers and certifiers as 'within standards.' Somewhere along the lines, maximising profit has become a misinterpretation for 'delivering quality’," the submission said.

The owners also want the reintroduction of a Homeowners Warranty Insurance scheme for all levels of strata development, extension of the statutory warranty period and a statewide assistance package for cladding and defects.

The submission also recommends the reintroduction of mandatory state supervision of private certifiers.

"The buck stops with the government. When it goes wrong, they need to put money back in to fix a system they've overseen," the submission said.

One owner who made a submission said "Bankruptcy may turn out to be the best option" for them, due to a liability for repairs to a devalued property.

"For the most part I have lived in a constant state of anxiety, with many sleepless nights," the resident said. "I have found it extremely hard to function at work.

"Trying to juggle my work with my current chaotic living situation and stress over my future has at times been overwhelming.”

NSW Fair Trading representative Peter Dunphy told the inquiry an audit of the apartment construction industry was under way. However, the state government's target was only to review 25-30% of high-risk certification work annually.

The government has been unable to guarantee when the new building and development certifiers bill — passed in October 2018 — will come into effect.

The legislation will give the government compliance and enforcement powers; the right to suspend or cancel a certifier's registration; and allows for substantial fines for body corporates that do not have sufficient insurance.

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