Mascot Towers: ‘They’ve only got the clothes on their back’

Apartment owners are demanding the state government pay for repairs after signing off on faulty buildings.

Apartment owners are demanding the state government pay for repairs after signing off on faulty buildings. Photo: AAP

Residents of Sydney’s cracked Mascot Towers say they have been left in the dark since Friday night’s evacuation, facing homelessness with little more than the clothes on their back.

Owners will have to foot the bill for repairs, as the building is too old to fall under warranty, with many forced into shelling out hundreds of dollars for temporary accommodation.

Most residents were given less than an hour to bundle together as many personal possessions as they could on Friday night, before being asked to leave and find alternative accommodation.

Police and Fire Rescue NSW set up a temporary shelter at Mascot Town Hall, but only one family made use of the service, according to AAP, as residents either didn’t know about it or had made alternative arrangements.

Sarah Peters* told The New Daily that she arrived home on Friday night to a group of police officers standing outside her building.

One policeman passed her an evacuation notice that said cracks had been found in the basement, and told her she had 50 minutes to grab her belongings and evacuate. Another policeman then said she wasn’t allowed in, so she rang her housemates instead.

Most residents found out about the evacuation the night it took place. Photo: ABC

It was the first she had heard of the evacuation, and her housemates were “oblivious” too. They started packing up as soon as Ms Peters rang them.

“We got told to pack for the weekend, so we just bought a few toiletries and then we had to leave,” Ms Peters said. 

“And now we’ve found out we might not be able to go back in, and all our things are in there.”

Building Management Australia, the building manager of Mascot Towers, told Ms Peters that she would need to stay with friends or family.

They said they wouldn’t reimburse her rent, nor pay for accommodation.

“If they did offer some money, it wouldn’t be as bad,” Ms Peters said.

“Our friends don’t have spare bedrooms, and we don’t have any family in Sydney. So we stayed at a hotel for the first few nights, and now we’re staying at an Airbnb.”

Ms Peters is now paying $110 a night to stay at an Airbnb – significantly more than her typical weekly rent of $250.

But she said the lack of information provided to residents was almost more frustrating than the financial burden.

Devoid of reliable information, and with all her furniture still in the apartment, Ms Peters said she didn’t know whether she should stay at the Airbnb until they were allowed back into the apartment, or “buy an entire house worth of stuff” and begin looking for a new home.

“We know people who were out for the night and they’ve only got the clothes on their back,” she said.

“A couple are on holiday and they’re coming back next week. They’ve just got the clothes they had in Bali.”

Residents living in 64 of the building’s 122 units were allowed back into the property for roughly 15 minutes at a time on Monday to pick up more of their belongings. But they had to book an appointment with the building manager and were escorted into the building.

The apartment block’s building manager said they would provide regular email updates to affected residents, but Ms Peters said they told her that her apartment was “not on the list” when she asked to be forwarded these updates.

A spokesperson for the building manager and the owners corporation said in a written statement that they had set up a website to keep residents informed, and that this page would be live within 24 hours.

Construction workers survey the Opal Tower in Sydney's Olympic Park.

The evacuation of Sydney’s Opal Tower in December cast doubt on the standards of high-rise towers. Photo: AAP

“We have also decided to write to the Premier seeking assistance for owners and residents who do not have insurance cover to meet the needs of temporary accommodation,” the spokesperson added.

The written statement also said that the building manager would let owners know the findings of reports conducted by engineers and related professionals at an owners’ meeting later in the week.

Builders Collective of Australia president Phil Dwyer said the way residents had been treated was appalling.

“We’ve got this situation where we’re throwing people on the street with nowhere to go, with no form of compensation, with no anything,” he said.

“Not only that, but we’ve reduced the value of their investment or home to virtually zero, because you can’t sell it or do anything – certainly not for the foreseeable future.”

As it stands, owners are likely to have to pay for repairs, too, as the building is too old to fall under warranty.

The evacuation comes at a time of heightened scrutiny into standards in the construction industry.

Roughly six months ago, residents of Opal Tower at Sydney’s Olympic Park were evacuated after a crack was found on the 10th floor of the building.

Owners of apartments with Grenfell-style flammable cladding have also been asked to foot the bill for costly rectification works, which could be as much as $7.8 billion in Victoria alone.

And research done by the Future Cities Research Centre at UNSW found that 80 per cent of strata lots had faults.

Mr Dwyer said a series of regulatory changes were to blame for slipping standards within the construction industry – namely the privatisation of the building surveyors industry and the introduction of a builders’ warranty insurance that only allows claims against it if the builder dies, goes bankrupt or disappears.

“That was the big one, because that all of a sudden took away the enforcement of the regime and also the registration of builders,” Mr Dwyer said of the change to the builders’ warranty insurance.

“That’s why we’ve ended up where we are … And that’s why we want a short, sharp royal commission [into the construction industry] with targeted terms of reference.”

*Name changed at source’s request

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