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Email spat between Manly residents leads to $120,000 defamation payout

An elderly man who headed the strata committee of a Manly apartment building has been awarded $120,000 in damages after a court found he was defamed by an email from a fellow tenant that implied he was a "small-minded busybody" wasting residents' time on petty matters.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Michaela Whitbourn

Buyer beware: Warnings of ‘rorts’ for new apartment buyers

It’s been branded the biggest new rort in apartment living: a way of locking unwary new unit owners into expensive long-term contracts to pay for basic services the developer of the building should have provided. Instead of paying to install the necessary building infrastructure, such as gas, electricity, water, stormwater filtration, heating, airconditioning and internet access, some developers are transferring the costs onto owners via inflated service contracts.
Domain
Sue Williams

Opal Tower Tenancy Chaos Leads to Calls for NSW Help

Owners, tenants and industry lobby grops are calling for the NSW government to step up efforts to resolve tenancy chaos at Sydney's troubled Opal Tower. The government, which also owns more than 40 apartments in the tower, should take a bigger lead in clarifying tenancy issues both as a stakeholder and as a statutory body instead of relying on Fair Trading NSW and the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal, the Property Owners' Association of NSW president John Gilmovich said. The Owners Corporation Network also supports more leadership from the NSW government.  "The human miser defects cause can't be overstated," executive director (sic) Karen Stiles said. "Is it unreasonable to expect the relevant government departments to provide [more] support, particularly in such a high profile case?  After all, it's the lack of regulation and enforcement that allows defects to occur in the first place."
The Australian Financial Review
Su-Lin Tan

Victorian residents threatened with huge fines and eviction over dangerous building cladding

Residents of one of the first buildings in Victoria to be audited for cladding claim they received threats of huge fines and eviction by the regulator if they didn't remove it. Pensioners Jennifer and Kevin Opie bought an apartment at 247 Williams Road in South Yarra seven years ago, which was all signed off by the proper authorities.  "We trusted building regulations at that point but now we don't," Mr Opie told Today. Their apartment block was audited by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) just over a year ago and found to have the same combustible cladding found in the Grenfell Tower inferno and the Neo200 fire on Spencer Street earlier this year. The VBA then hit the couple, aged 78 and 84, with a massive bill to remove it. "We opened up our computer and saw that we owed $92,000... we were absolutely panic-stricken, we were devastated, we couldn't believe it," Mrs Opie said. But there was more bad news from the VBA to follow. They were told if they didn't come up with the cash in three months to remove the cladding, they would be fined over $20,000 or evicted.
Channel 9 Today Program
Christine Ahern

Housing with no serious faults and buyer protection – is that too much to ask of builders and regulators?

Regulation of the Australian building industry is broken, according to the Shergold-Weir report to the Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF). […] we have concluded that [the] nature and extent [of problems] are significant and concerning. The problems have led to diminishing public confidence that the building and construction industry can deliver compliant, safe buildings which will perform to the expected standards over the long term. You can say that again. The Shergold-Weir report identifies a catalogue of problems, including water leaks, structurally unsound roof construction and poorly constructed fire-resisting elements. Faults appear to be widespread. Regulatory failures are not only “diminishing public confidence”, they have a direct impact on the hip pockets of many Australians who own a residential apartment. In short, building defects resulting from lax regulation are a multi-billion dollar disaster.
The Conversation
Geoff Hanmer

32 Canberra construction sites shut down

The ACT government has temporarily shut down 32 construction sites in the past three months, as part of a renewed crackdown on dodgy building work. Access Canberra's building regulators have also inspected 180 sites since the start of the year, as it attempts to shake a widely-held perception that it's failed to respond to the problems plaguing Canberra's construction sector. Release of the figures comes as the ACT Assembly's inquiry into building quality prepares to hold its first public hearings on Wednesday, more than a year after the probe was announced. The inquiry was ordered in response to concerns from industry groups and consumers about the prevalence of defects in new developments across the ACT. 
The Canberra Times
Dan Jervis-Bardy

Grenfell fire could lead to 'cultural change' of safer buildings

Dame Judith, who has recently returned from Australia noted: "They have had fires in buildings with aluminium cladding systems on them but have been fortunate so far in that there have not been any deaths." Her UK government-commissioned fire safety review post-Grenfell called for a "culture change" to stop builders cutting corners to save money. She told talkRADIO: "I don't really care whether they want to or not. They've got to. That's what they should be doing, morally and legally." This shift will speed up once Brexit has taken place and tougher penalties for malpractice are introduced, she believes, and could be achieved in "two or three years". "Many of the policy issues that need to be addressed for the UK have not had the attention or the air-time that they should have had", she added. Read more at 
talkRADIO
Alex Dibble

Victims suffer as combustible cladding crisis rages on

The combustible cladding issue has evolved into a consumer nightmare.  At heart, this issue is about product safety and consumer protection, yet, strangely, consumers face the cost of fixing it. So how did we get to this point? Let's look at this from design-based perspectives of policy, practice and people. In a former life, I helped create vacuum cleaners in use today. We had strict regulations for electrical safety, energy efficiency and even waste.  If such appliances fail – particularly around safety – big companies have a history of recalling those products, at great expense to their bottom line. The predicament facing people who own properties with non-compliant cladding could be compared to: your vacuum cleaner failing or hurting you; the ACCC sending you a bill for the repair; Consumer Affairs forwarding you a medical invoice; and the tab for legal proceedings to pursue the company responsible lying with – you guessed it – you. Clearly this defies logic and justice.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Simon Lockrey

Madrid adopts rules that will shut down over 10,000 holiday apartments

The Madrid city council has approved a special plan regulating holiday rentals that stipulate, among other things, that apartments used as holiday rentals inside residential buildings in the city center must have a separate access area from the one used by regular residents. Guests will not be able to use the same building entrance or elevators. In practice, this means that 95% of these apartments will be unable to obtain the required license for this kind of activity, according to city officials. The new rules target properties in three rings, covering the historical city center as well districts such as Moncloa-Aravaca, Arganzuela, Latina, Usera and Carabanchel, that are used as holiday rentals for more than 90 days out of the year, at which point they are considered to be engaging in commercial activities that require a license. The city councilor for sustainable urban development, José Manuel Calvo, said that these rules are necessary because “massive tourism does not bring added value to cities, rather on the contrary, it degrades them.  In the neighborhood of Sol, there are two tourists for every resident. In the Cortes neighborhood, the ratio is 1.3 tourists for every resident. This is what’s known as touristification,” he added.
El Pais
Gloria Rodriguez-Pina

Fresh round of legal challenges over apartments with flammable cladding

Two new multimillion-dollar disputes over flammable cladding have hit the Victorian courts, the latest in a slew of litigation over who is to blame for incorporating the deadly materials into apartment buildings. One lawyer whose firm specialises in insurance law and litigation said there had been increased scrutiny of the construction industry – and a corresponding increase in litigation – since Sydney's Opal Tower cracking saga, February’s Lacrosse legal decision and another cladding fire at a high-rise in Spencer Street. “There appears to be greater awareness of, and concern over, the cladding used in the construction of [residential] buildings," said lawyer Hubert Wajszel, a principal at national firm Barry Nilsson. Mr Wajszel warned that, unless a workable solution was developed to help building owners affected by flammable cladding, "there will be a wave of litigated claims”. He said state and federal governments needed to "seriously consider funding, or at least defraying, the cost of rectifying what is a significant public issue”.
The Age
Clay Lucas

Advocates accuse NSW government of failing to help apartment owners affected by flammable cladding

Residents at high risk from potentially deadly flammable cladding are being denied information about what they should do to make their buildings safe, consumer advocates claim. Instead, say apartment residents, they are being threatened with huge fines for doing nothing, while owners in some blocks have been told it could cost more than $50,000 per unit to fix the problem. “This decision is bewildering,” says Phil Gall, the chair of the OCN which is running the seminar. “Fair Trading hasn’t sent them a guide sheet on the processes and types of services they need, nor invited them to meet others in the same situation. “We’re running this seminar to help owners navigate a way through an extremely difficult process, give them information and provide a forum to ask the experts questions. The government’s refusal to pass on details to the affected owners, and their secrecy, would be understandable if they were offering them help – but they’re not!”
Domain
Sue Williams

Labor vows to create NSW strata commissioner

NSW Labor says it will appoint a strata commissioner to advocate for apartment owners and residents on building defect issues if it wins the state election. “Strata is the fastest-growing sector of housing in the state, but our laws are so complicated and vested interests are always ready to confuse issues,” Labor’s innovation and better regulation spokeswoman Yasmin Catley said.  “It’s time strata owners had someone in power who is focused on their needs.” Owners Corporation Network of Australia Chairman Phil Gall has welcomed the strata commissioner proposal, but also calls for the creation of a ministry for housing that addresses wider issues. “Opal Tower is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We welcome the announcements of both parties to address defects, but any reform must be robust and deliver real results.”
Insurance News

How Airbnb is putting pressure on rent prices

New modelling from the Reserve Bank shows Airbnb is having a definite effect on rental prices despite the company’s assertions its business model doesn’t affect Australia’s housing market. University of Sydney professor Peter Phibbs said the “sharp link” between rents and vacancies rates – highlighted by Monday’s RBA report – demonstrated that home-share services like Airbnb are influencing the housing market. “Airbnb spends a lot of time saying they have no impact on markets. What this paper shows is that they do,” he said.
The New Daily
Killian Plastow

What’s in the Lacrosse VCAT judgement for owners of defective apartments and policy makers?

Despite the wailing of design consultants about the implications of the Lacrosse judgement and the Opal Tower engineering report, the importance of a viable Design and Construct constructor in these cases has proved critical to a way forward. The experiences and the processes that apartment owners have endured is unreasonable in a modern construction industry. It is evident that better design management skills, risk management and trustworthy performance assurance capabilities are needed to define the quality and resilience of future construction. Unfortunately, the owners of less visible and dramatic residential dwellings affected by these defects have virtually no voice in making their case for restitution. But they vote. And in the end, just as in the case of New Zealand’s Leaky Buildings or the ACT’s Mr Fluffy, a solution must be found. A far more wide-ranging construction industry inquiry is justified. This is why only a 10-year insurance warranty for residential apartments covering the structure, envelope, basement and waterproofing for new-builds from 2020 is viable.
The Fifth Estate
David Chandler