It was not the welcome Opal Tower resident Andre was hoping for.
After seven months of living out of a suitcase, the 28th-floor apartment owner finally received the keys to move back into his western Sydney home on Friday.
But inside, one critical thing was missing.
“I went into the apartment and the water wasn’t working,” Andre, who did not want his surname used, told the ABC.
“It wasn’t great. They said they’d turn it on later today.
“So I’m going for a bike ride.”
Andre was one of a handful of residents handed back the keys to their apartments on Friday after being evacuated from the Opal Tower building on Christmas Eve – and again days later – after residents reported large cracks in its foundations.
The incident sparked a nightmare scenario for the residents, with most living in-and-out of various hotels and temporary accommodation as the builder, Icon, carried out complicated rectification works.
This week the ABC revealed owners are seeking millions of dollars in compensation from the State Government in a class-action lawsuit, which could include Icon in cross-claims.
Owners are claiming a “breach of warranty” and that the $170 million apartment complex was not built with “due care and skill”. The ABC understands the response to the class action from residents has been strong.
At the tower on Friday a small army of workers clad in high-vis were banging away at the building – as they have been doing for the past seven months – with the screeching of drills a shrill reminder of the building’s immediate past.
Over the past month, owners of 169 apartments, who have been barred from their homes since Christmas Eve, have been gradually returning.
Although all owners were evacuated, more than half of 392 apartments in the building were deemed safe for re-occupation just weeks after the evacuation.
Friday was supposed to be one of the biggest influxes of returning residents, with Icon telling about 70 owners they could have their homes back.
But at least one owner originally on the list to move in on Friday told the ABC he was informed it would be another two-week wait.
“They’ve been doing this the whole time, promising one thing and then doing another,” he said. “My family and I were preparing to move back in and then we’re told this.
“I tried to call up the phone line Icon provided but it has been switched off.
“I sent them an email, but they don’t respond to emails.
“We’ve sick of being in hotels.”
A spokeswoman for Icon said 353 of the building’s 392 apartments were now ready for re-occupation, with all rectification works apart from “propping apartment repair” complete.
She said the company’s approach had been “exemplary” and denied the phone feedback line had been switched off.
The company declined to comment on the class action suit.
On Friday, of the reported 70 supposed to be regaining access, only a trickle of residents returned to the tower.
Some were glad to be home.
“Yes, we’ve been waiting for a long time – very happy to be back,” a woman rolling a black suitcase into the building said.
Others were less enthusiastic.
“No, we’re not happy, not happy at all” said one woman, as she and her partner unloaded silver suitcases from a 4WD BMW.
“We’ve been put in hotels for the past seven months.
“And we have no idea what the future holds for these apartments. what’s going to happen in two, three years from now?
Later a group of self-described “country bumpkins” from Port Macquarie, in Sydney for a school concert event, were shocked to hear that their Airbnb apartment was inside the “cracked one”.
“Awwww gawd,” the visitor to Sydney said. “I thought it was the one from the news. Soph, you booked the bloody cracked one!”
Earlier, a removalist moving furniture into the building told the ABC he “wasn’t allowed” to talk about what he was doing.
But did reveal he was “on TV last time” moving a resident out of the tower.
Later in the day when the ABC approached a man walking below the tower and asked if he owned an apartment in the building, his response summed up the situation at hand.
“Of Opal Tower?” he said. “Thank Christ, no, I live over in the building over there.
“I feel for them, that lot, who would want to live there now?”