Cracking brickwork at Sydney’s troubled Mascot Towers signals the pain is far from over for weary residents eager to return home.
Eight months have passed since hundreds of residents in the 10-storey high-rise were forced to evacuate on one hour’s notice.
Ninety-five units were affected by cracks in the facade masonry, while residents of a further 35 units were told they could stay in the building.
Since the evacuation, residents have been living in short-term rentals subsidised by the government – and an expired building warranty means they’ve been slugged with a repair bill exceeding $10 million.
This week, hopes of soon returning to their homes were dashed by reports of new cracks in one of the tower’s facades.
Fire and Rescue NSW was called to the 132-apartment complex late on Thursday. The area was taped off and temporary fencing installed on Friday.
Some shop owners were forced to temporarily vacate and a public safety zone has been set up as a precaution.
Patrick McGuire, from the building’s owners corporation, told The New Daily it was impossible to give a rough timeline for when repair works would finally be finished.
“It’s very stressful … but the residents have accepted this is a long-term, complex fix,” he said.
“They meet regularly, they’re close, and I dare say what’s happened to Mascot Towers has pulled them even closer.”
Mr McGuire said the recent cracking incident was “minor” and wouldn’t add much to the final bill, which is already estimated to exceed $10 million.
So far, the owners have agreed to raise a special $7 million levy to pay for the first stage of rectification works.
“The bricks aren’t load bearing and they’re not structural,” Mr McGuire said of the latest incident.
“No bricks have been dislodged or fallen, and the engineers have said the chances of that are quite slim. This isn’t a crack in the building – it’s a minor issue in the scheme of things.”
The crisis has shone a spotlight on the broader issues plaguing Australia’s building industry.
Among those are a lack of adequate controls and supervision on building sites, and a poor business culture that rewards cheap quick-fixes over quality construction.
The Mascot Towers evacuation – and a spate of others across Sydney, including Opal Tower in Sydney’s Olympic Park – has prompted the appointment of NSW’s inaugural building commissioner.
Proposed reforms to the building sector include introducing a star rating system to identify and ban high-risk builders with bad track records.
A spokesperson for the Owners Corporation Network, an advocacy group for apartment owners, said defects in apartment buildings were becoming increasingly common.
“People assume the government will protect them, but that’s not true,” she said, adding there was no accountability for shonky operators.
“If you buy a car with a seven-year warranty and that car suddenly catches fire as you’re driving home, you’d call up a dealership and ask for a new one.
“But if you’ve got a building that is defected, often you’ll find the company has gone into liquidation and there’s no point suing anyone because you won’t get any money.
“It’s best to fix it up yourself and keep quiet, because you don’t want to affect the value of your property.”
The news comes just days after Domain reported apartment sales in Sydney’s Olympic Park plummeted 75 per cent in the wake of the Opal Tower evacuation, with the suburb’s median unit price falling 9.8 per cent.