They’re the booming Sydney suburbs where new homes are being fast-tracked to feed the city’s population rise.
But accelerated development in the NSW Government’s chosen hotspots – many in the form of apartment tower blocks – has spawned a silent tsunami of building defects.
A 9News investigation reveals homeowners in the postcodes of earmarked ‘priority precincts’, growth and urban renewal areas have a more than double rate of defects compared to those where regular planning rules apply.
Worst affected are owners in suburbs across Sydney’s west, south-west and north-west.
What is the problem with the properties?
Nevertheless, the State Government appears to be attempting to wash its hands of accountability from the sanctioned building frenzy, which saw development applications assessed in as little as 24 hours.
It has variously pointed the blame at the building industry, declared an emergency loan for displaced Mascot Towers residents as a “one off” and claimed there was “no great cause for alarm” over building defects.
But its policy cocktail of mass rezoning, fast-tracking housing approvals and rapid property completion targets appears to have contributed to a perfect storm for building shortcuts and mistakes.
“There’s every possibility with the volume of construction we have been having in our urban growth areas, that further catastrophic events are possible,” said Stephen Goddard, of the Owners Corporation Network.
“I have no doubt that successive governments have been focussing heavily on the procurement of housing rather than the impact on consumers of what was happening within them.”
However, Kevin Anderson, Better Regulations Minister said it was about those building the homes.
“It comes down to the building and construction industry and how they design, construct and ultimately build those buildings,” he said.
How widespread is the building defect issue?
Publicly reported defects are just the tip of the iceberg, as thousands of home owners are understood to be suffering quietly for fear of devaluing their homes or are gagged by developers’ non-disclosure agreements.
“It is a significant threat to public confidence for us to simply turn the deck chairs on the Titanic for a better view of the iceberg,” added Mr Goddard.
“Clearly there is every possibility that the absence of oversight that has existed here at Mascot Towers has repeated itself in other places.”
Indeed, the problem is so great that a mandatory “catastrophic insurance” levy has been proposed, which would involve all owners’ corporations paying into a pot of funds to create a safety net for building defects in NSW.
A similar scheme was adopted following the Christchurch earthquakes in New Zealand.
As defects mount, most owners’ corporations take an approach of “hiding the problem”, “fixing it quietly” and “preventing the building from becoming tainted” to avoid becoming the next headline.
Many owners were attracted to buy in planned precincts by the prospect of affordable housing and capital growth – but on the flipside, are ill-placed to fund legal action or sell at a loss.
Should you buy off the plan apartments?
Mr Goddard warns that buyers who purchase off the plan now have an 80 per cent chance of buying into a building with defects.
“It is unfortunate that you have more consumer protection buying a refrigerator than a million-dollar apartment,” he said.
He advises against buying off the plan and into a building of more than three floors or less than 10 years old.
Opal Tower apartment owner, Monica Zhang said: “We’ve lost so much money.”
There are signs the State Government is preparing to address the problem, with a raft of reforms and the establishment of an independent Building Commissioner due over coming months.
If it fails to take action, sources warn demands for a Royal Commission will get louder.
In postcodes for the State Government’s designated development areas, there were an average of 13.2 building defects reported. Elsewhere, the average was 5.7.
Overall, the highest levels of defects were recorded in suburbs like Kellyville, Rouse Hill, Campbelltown, Marsden Park, Box Hill, Westmead, Seven Hills, Schofields and Macquarie Park.
While the greater volume and concentration of construction in such areas increases the risk of defects, some of the areas have not yet been fully developed.
Not all defect complaints are related to new strata buildings and urban postcodes typically have higher levels, but the data does reflect a broader trend.
Zetland’s Gadigal Avenue loft apartments, Mascot Towers and Opal Towers were evacuated because of the safety risk defects posed to residents.
Residents of Parramatta’s Altitude apartment block were evacuated after a sewage leak, it was revealed yesterday.
What is the priority precinct promotion?
At the height of priority precinct and urban renewal promotion, the Premier’s Priority entailed delivering 61,000 housing completions per year, getting 90 per cent of approvals determined within 40 days and leading rezoning for 10,000 extra homes per year.
The led to drastic changes such as development applications being assessed in as little as 24 hours by Liverpool Council, which introduced a “FastTrack” digital platform.
Previously, applications had taken 75 days to process.
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