WARNING: The Grenfell Tower in Londong … the NSW opposition has called on the government to identify at-risk buildings in Newcastle.Tenants NSW says the government could establish a public register of unit towersclad in flammable material in a similar way to how it treats buildings with asbestos.
The NSW opposition said on Monday that the government hadnot done enough to protect unit dwellers from the risk of flammable cladding since London’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire in June.
A state audit found 1047 high-rises may contain the non-compliant cladding. The government vowed in July to contact the buildings’ owners and ask them to conduct inspections,but it has not publicly identified the apartments involved.
Swansea MP and shadow better regulation minister Yasmin Catley said on Monday that the government had put the onus on building owners to inform residents about potential risks.
“If you are a renter inthose buildings, you quite well may not know that the building you are in potentially could be dangerous,” she said.“If I was a renter in NSW, I would be really, really concerned.”
Newcastle is in the midst of anapartment construction boom, and Ms Catley said it was the government’s “responsibility to tell us”if any of the 1000 identified buildings were in the city.
Mr Keanaccused Labor of“scaremongering” andsaid the 1047 identified buildings did not necessarily have dangerous cladding.
His office issued a statement saying building owners and strata managers weremore likely to have the authority to conduct testing. Notifyingindividual tenants andowners would have“extended the process by several weeks, if not longer”.
It said local councils and Fire and Rescue NSW had received the list of identifiedbuildingsin their area.
Lake Macquarie council voted in June to audit its high-rise buildings, and Newcastle is considering similar action.
“We have utilised the most comprehensive information available to conduct a swift audit of NSW buildings, and in turn contact relevant owners, possibly affected by cladding, as efficiently as possible,” Mr Kean said.
“It’s important to remember that cladding can be perfectly safe. If you have cladding on your building it does not automatically mean it will need to be rectified.”
The senior policy officer for Tenants NSW,Ned Cutcher, said the government could pursue a “middle-ground option”.
“There’s value in people knowing. Maybe there’s an option that provides strong and clear guidance to owners as to how they should notify occupants,” he said.“It’s an interesting one for people who rent in strata. The owner might have information that isn’t then passed on.”
Bad publicity and the time and cost of repairs could deter some owners from telling residents about the presence of flammable cladding.
The loose-fill asbestos register shows affected buildings in NSW, although it does not allow tenants to break their lease if they find out their building is on the list.
“There’s aspects of our law that could be brought into play here and they could be strengthened, and as the government did with their asbestos register, they could be brought directly to mind for tenants at the point of start-up,” Mr Cutcher said.
“The problem is it’s not enforceable.There’s no way they can actually end their tenancy. Those are the kinds of things that need to be strengthened and tidied up.
“We could make some direct reference to the presence of flammable cladding on a particular unit or building and then give those provisions some teeth, so the tenants can say, if they find out after the fact, and the landlord did know about it at the time, that’s actually grounds for the tenant to pull the pin.”
The n east coast is inthe grip of rising property prices, forcing people to rent longer. Tenants NSW estimates that half of all strata units in NSW are rentals.
“Thiskind of question about how we notify tenants and what this means for tenancy agreements is not an afterthought,” Mr Cutcher said.
“I guess that’s why you need to be pretty clear and direct about what are the processes that people would need to follow if they want to take some action, having been given a piece of information that may not be in the property owner’s interests to disclose.
“Investing is a risky business. We shouldn’t assume that just because we’re investing in property the risk should all be passed on to others.
“It would be nice to think we can resolve some of these issues before the fact, but I daresay this issue wouldn’t have been on most people’s radar beforethe Grenfell disaster in London, and now it’s front of mind, and you can understand why people are concerned.”
The Grenfell fire killed an estimated 80 people and injured 70.