NSW building commissioner David Chandler has put a first group of four developers on notice under sweeping new powers, telling them his office will audit their apartment projects to make sure they conform with the approved plans and will not allow them to settle if they do not comply. The first audits, to be followed by another six next month, follow passing of new laws in June that allow the commissioner to require selected developers to give six months’ notice of their planned completion date and undergo a series of monthly inspections leading up to completion.

Mr Chandler also said that while the system would influence future behaviour, he had powers to order rectification on residential towers with existing problems. “When the owners do come forward and say “We’ve got problems” I now have powers to go into those buildings, powers to call in the documents that are relevant to the building,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve had powers to go into existing buildings up to six years old and, in extreme cases, up to 10 years old.”

Strata owners’ body Owners Corporation Network applauded the change. “For [the commissioner] to be able to arbitrate defects rectification in buildings up to six years old, including an independent scope of works, timeline and sign-off, would be a godsend for those affected owners,” OCN executive officer Karen Stiles said. “Until now, owners in multi-storey apartment buildings have rarely notified NSW Fair Trading, seeing that more as handling relatively small dollar disputes in stand-alone buildings and such,” Ms Stiles said. “The fact that no reliable complaints records have been kept is also off-putting. So, reluctantly, owners have been dragged down the expensive and exhausting litigation route. The unnecessary burden on owners and the community is incalculable.”

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Michael Bleby