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News

Major lender swings axe on loans for flammable cladding buildings

ASX-listed Resimac is set to axe mortgages to apartments known - or suspected - of being clad in combustible materials, the first big lender to publicly take a hardline on lending to borrowers wanting to buy in risky buildings.
The Australian Financial Review
Duncan Hughes

How hundreds of lives were thrown into chaos when Neo 200 caught fire

It was dawn and the city was starting to wake when small flames began to lick up the side of a towering apartment complex in Melbourne’s centre. On a balcony crowded with furniture, books and flattened cardboard boxes, a lit cigarette had been smouldering near some clothing, possibly for hours. Then, with astonishing speed, a blaze began. It would only be later, in the days following, that these residents would begin to comprehend how the fire would throw them into limbo, forcing them to reconsider whether apartment living was for them. The experience has been distressing, making one owner reconsider whether it’s wise to buy apartments in Melbourne. "I actually recommend to my friends not to purchase apartments,” he said. “I think at the moment 'be very careful about the building quality' - not only cladding but all the other qualities. It’s just not good."
The Age
Simone Fox Koob

'Edible, medicinal or cultural': first Indigenous rooftop farm opens in Sydney

The Indigenous-run enterprise is more than a green space – it will provide community opportunities as well as bush foods. "Effectively what you’re looking at is a big pot.” Clarence Slockee and Christian Hampson are showing us around the Yerrabingin Indigenous rooftop farm, the 500-square-metre garden they have created on the rooftop of a Mirvac office block, smack bang in the middle of Sydney’s Eveleigh industrial park. It’s the first of its kind in Australia but they hope not the last. Much of the farm produce will go to local chefs and restaurateurs, who will be encouraged to forage in the garden. It will also be open to the community and Slockee and Hampson hope it will inspire the locals to grow plants in whatever space they have available. But this garden is more than just a green space. There will be sustainability workshops on topics like native permaculture design, pickling and preserving produce, making beeswax wraps and introduction to bush foods in the garden, while Slockee and Hampsonare will also work with local schools on their environmental and science projects.
The Guardian
Alexandra Spring

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

Why aluminium composite cladding is flammable and how buildings can be made safe

It's expensive to replace cladding on apartment blocks. Dr Kate Nguyen, who leads a fire and facade engineering group at RMIT University, says there's a cheaper way that's just as safe: introduce vertical firebreaks. These work in the same way as firebreaks around houses in grasslands and bushland — create a barrier that stops fire spreading. "If you replace half the cladding with firebreaks, then it is possible to stop the fire spreading," Dr Nguyen said. "We think that if you really understand the facade and the cladding, you can make buildings and the people living inside safe."
ABC News
Belinda Smith

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 Members Say

"The whole strata community owes a huge debt of gratitude to you and the OCN executive. Much appreciated."

Robert, Darlinghurst

"I am very pleased with my membership of OCN, the discussions through sharing emails is very valuable in increasing my knowledge of strata living, the laws and EC responsibilities. I think I am better armed to tread the minefield of the managing agent responsibilities and the necessary action of the EC to monitor the contradictory interests of the agent."

Jim, Wollstonecraft

"I so appreciate being part of the OCN email forum. It provides a great opportunity for sharing ideas and learning"

Ingrid, Neutral Bay

"I must say that I have enjoyed and found consolation in the discussions that have been part of the email chain (forum). I did attend one general meeting and found that it was informative and the people "running the show" were knowledgeable and dedicated to the tasks that had taken on. In short, well done. You and the committee have and continue to support the Strata Community in a very professional manner."

Greg, Parramatta

"Nothing is easy in Strata World and we have been in building defects “mode” for some years – hopefully almost at an end but that process has been most demanding and difficult but again – greatly helped by the experience and wise counsel of other members of OCN."

Pat, St Leonards

"Keep up the good work, as many (if not most) strata schemes need your help, advice and representation at all levels of government."

Jann and John, St Ives

"I belong to OCN because of its professionalism.  I have found the meetings I have been to extremely well presented, to the point, and of course very topical and informative. Speakers on the whole certainly know their topic.  My role of Secretary last year was certainly assisted with the coverage regarding TPG & other subjects. Member newsletters are also of benefit as the topics are specific to strata matters."

Graham, East Balmain

I have enjoyed attending the quarterly OCN meetings and the exchange of emails between other Executive Committee Members and think OCN is playing an increasingly important role as a voice for strata dwellers and representing us at Government level. I wish the organisation continuing success in the future."

Pauline, Kings Cross

"The [forum] response to my question was amazing and really useful.  The OCN community is wonderful so thanks."

Jenny, Killara

"I would like to thank you all for the important effort that you are all putting in to look after apartment owners and tenants. It is so valuable and you are heroes. I would not have been able to deal with my duties as a strata chairman without your advice and assistance." 

Angela, Mascot

"The OCN is invaluable – many thanks."

Bill, Surry Hills

"OCN is proving invaluable"

Sue, Neutral Bay

"Thanks to all at OCN for your continuing efforts to keep us up to date with current strata information and advice...it has been very helpful to us"

Kate, Coogee

"When my wife & I first encountered a problematic Executive Committee I heard that OCN was a great help (from a Strata manager whom I knew) so we both joined and have gratefully used the on-line information sources. We continued to happily rely on OCN’s assistance when we progressed to Committee status & later as Chair & Secretary of our Committee. I still use OCN in my current role as Treasurer."

Peter, Chiswick

"Thanks to OCN for being such a rich resource of trustworthy information about strata matters."

Peter, Chiswick

"I wanted to extend my personal thanks for the very informative & interesting event today. The OCN team did an outstanding job in the organisation of this event & I enjoyed it thoroughly. The quality of speakers, the flow of conversation & interaction from the attendees - first class …& of course, the amazing Jimmy T - always a delight."

Sue, Epping

"OCN does a great job in providing a really valuable service to Strata owners."

Lois, Wollongong

"I am sure my appreciation of your good works is echoed by many in the Stratasphere. Keep up the good work."

John, Elizabeth Bay

"Once again, being able to discuss such things through this forum, helps clear the mind, puts things into perspective and helps one to understand their rights and to form a strategy if needs be. As a simple EC member trying to do what is in the best interests of lot owners, I truly value OCN and am grateful."

Pamela, Point Lookout

"The OCN is probably one of the best, most informed and most informative groups I have been involved with."

Alan, Maryville