When looking for a place to buy or rent, everyone has a list of things they want. However, it might be time to think about things you don’t want when it comes to fire safety in your apartment building or house.
The term cladding refers to the material used to cover the external walls or roof of a building. The seemingly mundane topic has become somewhat controversial in the aftermath of the tragedy that was the Grenfell fire of June 2017. The citizens of London were outraged by the lack of regulation surrounding the use of highly combustible materials for the exterior walls of residential buildings. The speed at which the flames spread and engulfed the entire building top to bottom resulted in a shocking number of casualties that some suggest, could have been avoided by government regulation or greater awareness amongst the fire safety personnel about the way in which the fire would spread.
The Government’s response in NSW has been assertive in its approach to reducing the danger posed by combustible external cladding. Certain materials have been banned altogether in the construction of residential buildings and legislation has been amended to hold builders accountable for significant problems in fire safety systems.
New laws also require building owners to register certain buildings clad in combustible material with the NSW Government. Buildings that have either metal composite panels, or an insulated cladding system on any part of its external walls, need to be registered on the Department of Planning and Environment website. Penalties apply for failure to register, which means that individuals are able to inquire about any concerns they may have with the knowledge that potential risks can be easily identified and assessed. The Cladding Registration website advises anyone with such concerns to make an inquiry through their property manager or agent. Registration through this system also helps agencies such as Fire and Rescue NSW to plan and respond in the event of fire in order to prevent the level of devastation seen in past combustible cladding fire incidents. It also assists councils in deciding whether any assessment or rectification action is required.
The following information may assist anyone who has concerns regarding combustible cladding in their home.
- Ask your agent or property manager if the building has any cladding materials that could be a fire hazard,
- Check whether your buildings fire safety statement is up to date.
- If you still have concerns, you can find a qualified fire safety engineer who will appraise and assess the condition of the exterior building components and recommend any changes that could improve the buildings fire safety. These personnel will provide a fire engineering assessment report which can be submitted to the building management team to ensure that contractors comply with fire safety standards for long term durability.
Potential Buyers (individual apartment/lot):
- If you are buying an individual apartment or a single lot, the best way to ensure you are adequately protected from the potential risks of combustible external cladding is to inquire through your agent or property manager. The requirement for registration of any buildings containing the hazardous material, ensures that this information can be made known to potential buyers before the transaction is completed. The information in the register may be provided to any person upon inquiry and it may be made publicly available if deemed necessary.
Potential Buyers (entire building/house):
- If you are buying a building, ensure you enquire about the external cladding, external wall, external insulation, façade or rendered finish of the building because if banned ACPs have been used, the responsibility for undertaking rectification rests with the current owner of the building.
Potential Sellers (individual apartment/lot):
- If you are selling an apartment within a single building, obligation lies with the building owner(s) to register the building if it has combustible external cladding. This information can be made available to potential buyers.
Potential Sellers (entire building/house):
- If you are selling, seek legal advice as to whether you need to disclose that your building has or may have the banned material in the external cladding or that you have received a building notice or a building product rectification order.
- If you own a building that has the banned material in any external cladding, external wall, external insulation, façade or rendered finish, the Commissioner of NSW Fair Trading may issue a building notice and may publish a building notice on the internet if it is in the public interest to do so.
- Your local council also has power to issue you with a building product rectification order requiring you to eliminate or minimise the safety risk and remediate or restore the building following the minimisation of the risk.
- Building owners may be compelled to remove and replace the banned material on existing buildings if they cannot eliminate or minimise the safety risk without removal.
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