Australia Darwin property owner in legal limbo after buying $700K unit with roof that later leaked

00:45  28 september  2020
00:45  28 september  2020 Source:   msn.com

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a tall building in a city: Jonathan Egudo bought his unit in Darwin's Kube Apartments off the plan. (ABC News: Michael Donnelly) © Provided by ABC Business Jonathan Egudo bought his unit in Darwin's Kube Apartments off the plan. (ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

When Jonathon Egudo went on the hunt for a property back in 2012, he settled on a top-floor apartment in a stylish new building planned for the Darwin CBD.

Known as Kube Apartments, the off-the-plan residential complex featured a contemporary façade of geometric patterns unlike any other block in the Top End capital.

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"I'd worked quite hard and saved a fair bit of money for a deposit, so I was really excited to get myself into the property market," the 31-year-old Melbourne resident said.

But since paying $700,000 for the three-bedroom unit, his dream home has become a nightmare that has left him in a financial and legal limbo with no end in sight.

"The whole situation has had a huge impact on my life," Mr Egudo said of the ongoing water leaks and mould issues he says have left his unit unfit for occupation for more than two years.

"Just living with the stress every day of not knowing [if it's] ever going to be resolved."

Mr Egudo is not alone: The chairman of the building's body corporate committee, Gary Strachan, said several other units within the multi-storey complex had also had defects for years.

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"There's been ongoing issues since the start of construction and we've been working with [the developer-builder Tomazos Group] to rectify those issues," Mr Strachan said.

"They haven't been rectified yet. And every year we go through the same problem."

'High concentrations' of dangerous mould

Mr Egudo's saga began several months after he got the keys to his unit in 2014, when water started leaking through the ceiling during a wet-season storm.

After advising the body corporate management company, Mr Egudo said he was later informed the problem had been resolved.

"I thought everything was fine and all my problems were solved from there," Mr Egudo said.

"[But] that was the beginning of my ongoing torment with the property."

During the following wet season, the same thing happened again, as it did the year after — despite assurances the property had been fixed each time.

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The leaks forced his tenants to abruptly end their leases on each occasion.

Dissatisfied with the efforts of both the body corporate and the developer-builder to permanently resolve the situation, Mr Egudo engaged his own consultants to investigate the source and impact of the leaks.

A report prepared by his building consultant stated that despite the application of sealant on the roof, water was still leaking through his ceiling from a concrete plant room on the building's roof as well as from insulated air-conditioning pipework in his bathroom.

Another consultant specialising in environmental risk management found "extensive visible mould" throughout the living space of the apartment, including "high concentrations" of a mycotoxin-producing species known as stachybotrys in the ceiling space.

"The current status of the indoor environmental conditions of the unit prohibit the unit from being fit for occupation," the consultant stated in their report.

Mr Egudo said the situation had left him in a difficult financial position.

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"I've had to pay a mortgage on this property and it's completely unusable, uninhabitable," he said.

"I'm just left in this limbo situation where I can't really do anything about it."

Mediation fails, legal fees mount

Under the Northern Territory's Building Act, a dispute process overseen by NT Consumer Affairs only exists for residential buildings under three storeys.

And while the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics has the power to investigate complaints and act against registered building practitioners for all buildings, it is unable to assist in other ways.

"The legislative framework does not provide for the regulator to assign liability or order compensation," a spokesman said.

Mr Egudo said the lack of consumer protections for people in his position forced him to take expensive legal action against the developer, something he said the body corporate should have done.

In a letter sent by his lawyers, he accused Tomazos Group of failing to ensure his property was waterproof and fit for occupation when it was sold — an allegation rejected by the company.

Mediation between the two parties failed to resolve the issue, including who should pay for the devaluation of Mr Egudo's apartment and the tens of thousands of dollars in lost rent, legal fees and building reports.

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"I'd like to see some form of reform in the way that developers and builders are held accountable for their actions," he said.

"And also for the way that body corporates are held accountable for their actions."

The chairman of the Kube's body corporate said his committee wanted the situation resolved for the entire complex.

"It's our investment too — the people on the body corporate own units too," Mr Strachan said.

"I've had my own issues with my own apartment.

"We are only little people. We are only private owners. We are up against a developer."

Company says it is working with owners

Tomazos Group managing director John Tomazos confirmed several units had experienced problems, many of which he said had since been resolved.

He said the company was continuing to work "in good faith" with unit owners, even though it believed the body corporate was responsible for dealing with the issues.

"The Tomazos Group had been assisting the body corporate of Kube Apartments with rectification of water ingress through the common property of the building, despite the body corporate having a positive duty to properly maintain the common property and keep it in a state of good repair," Mr Tomazos said.

"We have made attempts to rectify the roof and condensation issues and have an engineer on board to provide advice on rectification," he said.

"We have not walked away from the issue and are doing what is needed to work with the body corporate to resolve this."

Mr Egudo said he had little faith in the promises he had heard before and said his experience was a cautionary tale for others.

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"There are so many risks that you can't really foresee," he said.

"And yet the protections that are in place around the country really don't support the consumer or the buyer."

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