Dangerous Cladding and Building Disputes: In the News

Combustible Cladding: What can Owners’ Corporations Do?

What is the problem?

Dangerous combustible aluminium cladding on buildings has been a major headache for Owners Corporations, lot owners, builders and developers.

The cladding is of concern because of the capacity for its panels to fracture when exposed to extreme heat. As the panels fracture, the combustible core of the cladding becomes exposed. This can allow fire to spread rapidly.

Is my building affected?

This cladding is believed to have been used in hundreds of buildings across the country. However, it can be difficult to determine whether any particular building has this type of dangerous, combustible cladding without having the cladding removed or tested.

Buildings which are typically affected by this cladding include multi-storey buildings constructed after 1997. This may include apartments, hotels, student accommodation, hospitals, schools and aged care facilities.

In Melbourne, large residential buildings have been identified has been covered in dangerous combustible cladding. Cladding fires in Australia have already caused significant economic impacts. Overseas, such fires have led to the loss of life.

These events have prompted the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to launch its statewide cladding audit on behalf of the Victorian Government. The audit has confirmed that dangerous combustive cladding materials are used widely in Victoria. This audit is ongoing. Owners Corporation Committee Members or Building Managers should find out whether there buildings have been identified in the audit.

What Questions should you be asking?

Questions to consider include:

  • When was the building constructed?
  • Do you know if aluminium composite panels or expanded polystyrene are used on the building?
  • Has the building’s insurer made any enquiries about the building? If so, what was the outcome of these enquiries?
  • Has a registered building surveyor been engaged to review the building?
  • If combustible cladding has been found, what has the Owners Corporation determined, if anything, to do about the issue?
  • What steps are being taken to maintain the building’s essential safety measures. These essential safety measures could include fire hydrants, fire doors, smoke alarms and sprinklers.

Concerned parties could also consider contacting local council’s building department or Municipal Building Surveyor and ask if they are aware if any cladding-related issues with the building.

How We Can Help

Gordon Legal has unique expertise in advising Owners’ Corporations on the potential risks and legal liability, and insurance process that may arise after a combustible cladding fire.  Gordon Legal has acted for an Owners Corporation in one of the two instances in Victoria where a combustible cladding fire has led to loss and damage.

Gordon Legal can advise Owners Corporation Committees and Building Managers, on:

  1. What steps to take to properly discharge your legal obligations to lot owners;
  2. Identifying who may be legally responsible for the installation and removal of non-compliant cladding on your building;
  3. The potential legal effect of Cladding Audit Results and Building Notices;
  4. How to negotiate with insurers on cladding issues;
  5. How recent Court Cases (including the Lacrosse Building case) has determined legal liability between Owners Corporations, Building Managers, Builders, Surveyors and others.

In our experience, lot owners are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risk to their properties, and are asking Owners Corporations for assurances with respect to cladding on common property, or are asking for remediation plans to be put into place.

Owners Corporations have responsibilities to advise lot owners if any official orders have been made over the building in relation to potential fire risks.

We can provide Owners Corporations Committees and Building Managers with a risk assessment and advice for a fixed fee on the above issues.

It is important to be aware that there are strict limitations for bringing legal claims against parties who may be responsible for the installation of dangerous cladding. If you are on an owner’s corporation and combustible cladding has been found on your building, you should seek legal advice to determine your risk and options.

If you think you may want to investigate further, or you have any questions about a cladding claim, please contact us at our Melbourne office on (03) 9603 3000 and speak to one of our staff.