Water damage leads the list of defects affecting apartment buildings and their residents, says a leading Deakin University researcher in a new report.

Funded by the PICA Group, the study sought to identify the types of defects and how they impacted on the building and its occupants. Not only was the number of defects in apartment buildings rising, but they were also causing significant distress in affected residents and owners, says the report.

Lead researcher Dr Nicole Johnston, a senior lecturer in Deakin Business School, studied 212 building defect reports and collated 3227 defects for analysis. The study also assessed the regulatory environment to understand how defects were managed and rectified within the residential property environment. Additionally, the researchers spoke with industry stakeholders, apartment owners and residents for the study.

Johnston identified defects relating to building fabric and cladding as the most prevalent, followed by fire protection, waterproofing, roof and rainwater disposal, and structural issues.

Of the defects related to building fabric and cladding, one third was attributed to water penetration or moisture, most likely due to waterproofing or roof and rainwater disposal defects.

The high number of fire safety defects was alarming given their threat to life, the study found.

“A number of concerns were also raised about the relationship between the National Construction Code and the Australian Standards, where there is some disconnect in requirements, and industry identified a need for better consistency,” says Johnston.

“The focus on minimum standards instead of best practice in the National Construction Code was also raised as a concern, as well as the private certification system, where community expectations were seen to be out of step with legal requirements.

“Many industry representatives suggested that human error played a significant part in building defects and the misuse of building products, lack of training, and lack of licensing were all common factors contributing to the defect problems.”

Also of great concern was the health and financial impact on owners and residents as well as volunteer owners’ corporation committee members who had the stress of dealing with building defects.

For instance, mould, which develops due to water penetration, has serious health implications for residents. The financial impact is immense since remedial works to rectify, particularly for waterproofing and fire separation failures, are expensive. This financial burden on lot owners when builders fail to rectify building defects can lead to a number of psychological health impacts, particularly stress related, noted Johnston.

According to Johnston, it should be reasonable to expect that homes are constructed in a manner that, at the very least, is stable, safe, sheltered and fit for purpose.

“Unfortunately, new residential buildings in Australia appear to be plagued with defects, and while the building itself can be fractured by these defects, it is the residents living there who face the impacts,” she says.

“Building defects are considered inevitable by the building industry, so it is essential to gain a better understanding of the nature of defects in residential multi-owned properties in order to respond effectively.

“Government intervention that starts with in-depth stakeholder and end-user consultation is urgently required in order to stem the flow of these defects.”