Residential Apartment Buildings Bill 2020

(Second Reading Debate, 3 June 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The hardship and devastation this continues to cause to those affected owners is unfathomable. The construction industry urgently needs a massive shake‑up. I am pleased that the Government is now taking this critical action. I strongly support the appointment of the Building Commissioner and the design and building practitioners' legislation, and now strongly support the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill. The bill will ensure that the Building Commissioner can inspect residential apartment buildings during construction and six years after, to examine non‑compliance and defects. The commissioner, through delegation by the secretary, will have powers to issue stop work orders and building work rectification orders. The commissioner will also have the power to prevent the issue of an occupation certificate. Not all buildings can be inspected and I understand that the commissioner will use a new rating system designed to flag risky buildings and developers.

I hope those players who phoenix their companies and start up with a new name and registration will be targeted. They are responsible for significant community hardship and economic loss, and must be held accountable and stopped from causing further damage. I have been impressed by the Building Commissioner's passion for cleaning up the building industry and I trust he will use his new powers constructively. His role and the bill represent massive leaps forward for the future of apartment building. I will move an amendment to improve the provision that compels apartment owners to let a developer or builder back into their homes to fix defects. In most cases, getting the original developer or builder to fix defects will be appropriate because they know the building and are most likely capable of doing the job. Ordering them to return will improve accountability. However, there will be times when an owners corporation may have very valid reasons to not want the original developer or builder to return to fix their home. Examples include where the developer or builder has been negligent or incompetent, or where there is a destructive relationship between owners and the developer involving intimidation.

As drafted, the owners will be subject to massive fines if they do not let the developer or builder return to fix defects regardless of their specific circumstance. My amendment will ensure that owners can lawfully refuse the developer or builder into their homes to fix defects if they have a reasonable excuse. This adds a safeguard for the few situations where there is a justification to refuse entry. The amendment will strengthen the strong consumer protections in the bill and I call on members to support it. I strongly support the Government's reform agenda, which commenced last year, but defects have become entrenched in apartment construction and we continue to need progressive reforms.

We need to address the loopholes that allow developers to contract out of statutory warranties, to restore fairer statutory warranty time frames and to stop the capacity for developers to phoenix their business to escape liability. We also need to monitor progress. For years governments refused to acknowledge the serious problem bubbling under the surface because there was little media on the issue. The lack of media attention, however, has occurred because owners are too afraid to publicly report defects out of fear that it will affect the value of their homes and further entrench the hardship they experience. If there were adequate safeguards to protect owners, we would not have this problem. As the member with the largest proportion of apartments in their electorate, I thank the Government for this bill and look forward to working together on further reforms. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate on Bill continued HERE.

Bill Consideration in Detail Amendment:

I move my amendment No. 1 on sheet c2020-073B:

No. 1 Occupier of land to permit developer to carry out work
Page 18, clause 41(3), line 25. Omit "must not fail to comply".
Insert instead "must not, without reasonable excuse, fail to comply".

This amendment will ensure that owners can lawfully refuse entry into their homes to a developer or builder if they have a reasonable excuse. In most cases, the original builder or developer will be the best person to come back and fix any defects—they know the building and are most likely capable of doing the job. Placing orders on the original builder or developer to fix any defects they caused is an important part of improving accountability in the industry. But when there is a reasonable excuse to refuse entry—such as when the developer or builder has shown negligence, incompetence or intimidation towards owners—owners corporations will not be forced to let them back into people's homes. This adds an important safeguard for owners.

I thank the Owners Corporation Network for working with my office on this amendment and I thank the Government, Opposition and crossbench for their support of it. The amendment strengthens the strong consumer protections in the bill. This is an historic day for building reform and consumer protections for people who live in apartments in New South Wales. I commend the Government, the Minister and his staff for their important work in this space, and I thank the Opposition and crossbench parties for their cooperation during this important time for our State. I commend the amendment to the House.