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  • Sue Williams - Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age

Melbourne apartment defect horror leaves owner with health issues

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

When Zoe Foster visited her doctor for a routine COVID-19 test, the doctor regarded her swab with horror. “Your nose is black inside!” she exclaimed. “It looks like … mould spores.”

Ms Foster, 37, was, in turn, aghast. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “But I knew exactly what it must be. I’d had so many problems in my new apartment, including leaking balcony doors and water running down the balcony walls from upstairs.

“There was mould on the walls and, when I’d torn up the carpet, the underlay was covered in black mould. And now I realised it must also be affecting my health, especially with the lockdowns in Melbourne when I’d been confined to the apartment.”

Now Ms Foster is calling on the Victorian Government to appoint an independent building commissioner to assess defects in apartment buildings, along the lines of the NSW appointment of a commissioner. She’s being joined by Australian Apartment Advocacy CEO Sam Reece who’s lobbying for more protection for apartment buyers.

“This was my first home but it’s become a nightmare,” said Ms Foster, who works as an executive assistant in commercial property firm Cushman & Wakefield, and whose father is a builder and mother worked in real estate. I’m well-informed about real estate and I did everything I could to make sure there were no problems, but the system let me down.

“I should be in love with my home but at times I’ve absolutely hated it, and everything it’s put me through.”

The difficulty was that the Section 32 document – which in Victoria is the compulsory vendor statement about a property that enables an agent to market a home – was absolutely blank. There was no indication there were any problems, nor were there mention of any issues in the strata minutes.

“What I’m hearing more and more is that agents and buildings are keen to hide any possible defects in their buildings because they want to keep problems out of the public eye,” said Ms Reece. “So we need to make sure that the Government clamps down on people not keeping proper records.

“We did a national survey of 3,600 apartment owners, which found that 60 per cent of Victorian apartment owners experienced defects of some sort. Only 25 per cent of those said their defects has been fixed, but 55 per cent said they’d only had part of the defects fixed and there were outstanding issues still to be resolved.”

Ms Foster purchased her two-bedroom unit in the 253-unit Atria Apartments in Hawthorn in April last year for $672,000. When getting up one morning, however, she noticed the bed socks she was wearing were sodden, and discovered water from the balcony was leaking into her bedroom.

After a number of complaints to the builder ProBuild, the faulty balcony was fixed, the black mould was removed by men in hazmat suits, and a temporary repair was done to the part of the balcony where water was running down the walls outside from the apartment upstairs. An email from ProBuild said, ‘We recognise this is not the ultimate fix’.

ProBuild didn’t return any of Domain’s calls.

A lawyer for the building, Richelle Berman of R Berman Lawyers said: “The Owners Corporation is going to be pursuing ProBuild for the common property defects in VCAT [the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal] and will also be doing everything to assist its members in relation to their private defects.”

Ms Reece is now planning to release an education pack for anyone buying new apartments in Victoria in July, in the hope that others won’t face similar problems.

But for Zoe Foster, life is still tough. She says she now has to use a puffer for asthma, something she’d never had to do before, but she’s trying to stay positive.

“I’ve renovated parts of the apartment, and now got a Cavoodle puppy Luna to share it with me,” she said. “Defects are always awful but it’s even harder during COVID if you’re in lockdown and having to stay inside.

“I’m still fighting to have my apartment fixed, and I hope my experience might eventually help others.”

Thanks to Sue Williams at Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age for supporting Zoe in her situation. For the full story click here.

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