27 August 2021

Residents of a prestigious Strathfield apartment block built by companies associated with husband and wife developers Antoine and Georgette Bechara are the latest unit owners fighting to fix defects including in waterproofing and flammable cladding.

NSW Supreme Court documents show the Becharas’ companies tried to pass the blame onto the designers, the architects and the private certifiers Essential Certifiers, whose owner Bernard Cohen had 28 disciplinary findings against him between 2005 and 2011.

Mr Bechara, 58, is a prolific builder through various companies, having developed Strathfield’s lucrative Golden Triangle.

His wife, 50, is the sole director and shareholder of Omaya Holding Ltd.

The court rejected their arguments and found the blame rested with the Omaya Holding Ltd and Mr Bechara’s company Al Maha Pty Ltd and ordered them to pay $1,212,250 with costs of $183,394 to the strata owners of the units on Parramatta Rd.

It is the latest example of such defects, with NSW building watchdog David Chandler OAM finding up to a third of apartments built in NSW in the past six years to be defective.

Owners Corporation Network of Australia Ltd (OCN) executive officer Karen Stiles said on Thursday she would never buy an apartment in a building less than 10 years old.

Essential Certifiers, whose boss Mr Cohen had his personal registration as a certifier cancelled in 2010 according to the NSW Fair Trading website, has since shut down.

There is no suggestion they were to blame for any defects in the Strathfield block.

Justice James Stevenson said the residents of the unit block in 2019 sued the Bechara companies, which developed and built the units.

The judge has found the companies should have paid the money or done the rectification work as a result of agreeing to do so in a court settlement in July 2020.

The work, including $879,996 to fix the flammable cladding defects, $272,254 for water penetration defects and $60,000 for out of pocket remedial works, should have been completed by November 2020.

Justice Stevenson said the Bechara companies had agreed to pay the unit owners the money in four monthly instalments.

The Bechara companies said they had been unable to get insurance cover under the Home Building Compensation Fund to do the work but the judge found that if that were the case, then the owners of the units were entitled to the full $1,212,000 to get the work done themselves.

Ms Stiles, who used to sit on the NSW Building Professionals Board, said the only way people could confidently buy new units would be under the new rating system being developed with the support of Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson MP.

Builders have to apply and be given a rating of between one to five stars.

Mr Anderson said the government was on a mission to “lift quality and accountability in the building sector so people can feel confident purchasing apartments in this state.”

Janet Fyfe-Yeomans
Daily Telegraph