NSW Apartment Building Reforms Rolled Out

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via The Urban Developer

The Design and Building Practitioners (DBP) Act 2020, along with the new powers given to the regulator and building commissioner David Chandler, came into law on July 1.

The state’s planned reforms—which involve the adoption of 24 recommendations from the Shergold-Weir report, commissioned by the Building Ministers’ Forum in 2017—have been mooted since a high-profile structural failure at Sydney’s Opal Tower by builder Icon and engineer WSP.

Last year, the NSW parliament passed the Residential Apartment Buildings (RAB) Act 2020 in an attempt to rid the industry of building evacuations, “$2 companies” and “special purpose vehicles” set up by builders and developers.

The RAB Act provided Chandler with broad-ranging investigative powers to inspect building sites, stop work, and order rectification work.

From July 1, under the DBP Act 2020, architects will now be required to declare that designs comply with the Building Code of Australia and other relevant standards while developers and builders will have to declare that building work has been constructed in accordance with compliant designs.

It will create a registration scheme mandating that certain practitioners have to apply for and obtain registration if they intend to declare that regulated designs or building work comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Practitioners will need to become registered in order to make compliance declarations and perform professional engineering work.

It will also be mandatory for development applications to have been lodged with the NSW Planning Portal before construction can begin and for registered practitioners to be “adequately insured”.

However, the compulsory minimum standards of insurance do not come into force until 1 July 2023—allowing for a two-year transitional period.

The 132-unit Mascot Towers building was evacuated last in mid-2019.
▲ The 132-unit Mascot Towers building was evacuated last in mid-2019 after cracking was discovered around the north-eastern transfer beams.

“In the past consumers have been wary about buying new or off-the-plan apartments because of the risk of poor building work and design standards—but that ends today,” Anderson said.

“Under the changes the days of poor quality design are over—designs for a high-rise apartment will have to be to a minimum standard and lodged with the regulator before construction begins.

“We’ll also be undertaking targeted audits of those designs, so that issues can be identified and addressed before building works commence, saving everyone involved time and money, and avoiding disappointment and stress for buyers.”

NSW building commissioner David Chandler said that under the RAB Act 2020, architects and developers were witnessing a change in the culture among certifiers and would now be accountable to a new principle of “duty of care” for the industry.

“We’ve put the responsibility back onto the designers and builders to ensure their work is up to scratch and will take a proactive regulatory approach to protect the interests of apartment purchasers,” Chandler said.

Chandler said that under the DBP Act, registered practitioners were also now required to keep records specifying how they had determined that a policy they hold provides for an adequate level of indemnity.

“Those records are to be maintained for a period of five years and must be able to be produced upon request,” Chandler said.

Practitioners will now be able to apply for registration online via the New South Wales Planning Portal.

David Chandler
▲ NSW building commissioner David Chandler has placed prohibition orders on five apartment projects in Sydney since December.

Procore APAC vice president Tom Karemacher told The Urban Developer that while getting the legislative foundation right is important, it is up to individual practitioners and companies to “get their own shops in order”.

“The legislation establishes a framework against which companies can measure their compliance,” Karemacher said.

“It is designed to weed out rogue operators and dodgy practices, set a baseline of transparency and accountability, improve defect reporting and management, and enforce compliance with building codes.

“Given the scale of the task, we’re unlikely to see total compliance and confidence repaired overnight, but the most important role of the reforms is to be a catalyst for change.”

Karemacher said there would need to be a rapid shift towards a digital solution, led from the top, in order to support the compliance with the reforms and drive an uplift in quality assurance across the construction industry.

“In our conversations with customers and the industry in general, we’re hearing a real hunger to shift to better tech, but the challenge lies in education—how to choose the right software, how to implement and manage the change process internally,” he said.

“Most other industries have already gone through this kind of grassroots technology adoption, so the construction industry has an opportunity to rapidly learn those lessons and leapfrog.

“In the property development industry, technology can play a much bigger role than it is today.

“If records must be supplied in specific formats to the regulator, then practitioners will recognise the value in using a digital platform, from project inception to closeout, to ensure all project data is standardised and easily reportable.

“There may be scope to create an ‘approved’ list of software providers that meet certain requirements – which would make it easier for practitioners to know where to start.”

Chandler’s initial two-year appointment has been extended a year until September 2022 and by then he will have delivered a business case for a “modern” building regulator to the state government.

Since late last year, the commissioner has conducted 56 audits including 45 pre-occupation certificate audits.

In that time, five apartment projects have had prohibition orders slapped on them, barring people who have purchased dwellings in the buildings from moving in.

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