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WA apartment buyers need basic consumer protection

There’s a full-blown crisis of confidence in apartments in WA, the home state of Australian Apartment Advocacy (AAA).

Since 2016 when we started (as WA Apartment Advocacy) to campaign for apartment living and to give owners a voice, we have amassed a national database of 30,000, created education programs, delivered policy leadership and rewarded developer innovation.

However, in WA, we are seriously concerned about the lack of consumer protection for apartment buyers and the level of developer commitment to solutions.

Increasingly buyers are reaching out about the impact of construction delays. They are desperate for any clarity about when their home in the sky will be delivered.

And it’s not just delays. We have been inundated with complaints about building quality, the high price of fixing defects and the tricky question of who foots the bill. More recent events have led us to conclude there is simply not enough protection for WA apartment buyers.

News that builder BGC has suspended work at the seven-storey Iris PW Shenton Quarter site because of what it says are its concerns about the engineering and design of the development, is just one indication of the depth of the problem.

Buyers are telling us they have been told Iris PW’s Shenton Quarter, scheduled for a June 2022 finish, is unlikely to be settled until June 2024.

Where does that leave the 100-odd buyers who believed that apartment living would be easy breezy as AAA endorses?

Those buyers are in purgatory. They have invested in homes in a building that is said to have critical defects and they have no way of getting out of their contracts. They have little confidence in the standard of the build and the longevity of their supposed new home.

WA is the only State that does not conduct mandatory audits during apartment construction.

In Victoria 10% of all building permits are investigated. In NSW the Department of Fair Trading inspect 60% of all apartment building plans and has a team of 400 conducting spot checks throughout the build. In Queensland the QBCC has just recruited 140 new staff and the certifier has to demonstrate that the construction audits marry with the risk criteria of the building.

And finally, in the ACT the Territory Government is introducing new legislation which holds developers equally liable for defects as the builder, ensuring true accountability and a more equitable allocation of risk.

Here in WA, the only support the State Government offers the apartment sector is financial assistance for developers with headwork costs and stamp duty relief.

At the start of last month (OCTOBER) AAA wrote to 21 WA development companies asking them to encourage Commerce Minister Sue Ellery to introduce four audits during apartment construction. Only three did.

That lack of support for transparency and accountability during construction from WA’s developers contrasts with significant support for such audits from 16 associations representing our WA construction talent, including Master Builders, WALGA (WA Local Government Association), Master Plumbers, Australian Glass and Window Association, Waterproofing Institute of Australia, ACRS (Australian Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steel) and more.

AAA is alarmed. We are concerned the WA development sector is not demonstrating commitment to its buyers.

As a direct result, AAA has made a very difficult decision. We are advising WA buyers to abstain from purchasing apartments.

It may appear counterproductive and certainly, it is a last resort.

But in the absence of real consumer protection our deep concern is that WA will not be a place where you can rely on apartment build quality, which is essential when you are making a big, lifetime purchase.

Will AAA’s attitude change? Absolutely, once we see State Government policy that embraces buyer protection as equally as the developer.

Until then however, we are unable to endorse WA apartments as a sound purchase with any degree of confidence.

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