Flammable Cladding in Apartments: Should You be Worried?

July 23rd, 2018

Strata Data - Flammable Cladding

If you live in an apartment block or own an apartment, you might have paid extra attention to the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. Flammable cladding is a global problem that comes with risks you’ll want to know about. In Australia, this issue has been further highlighted with the Docklands’ Lacrosse building in Melbourne and the coverage of combustible cladding risks in certain Victorian apartment blocks. So if you’re affected by this issue as an owner, builder, or resident, you’ll need to find out who to contact and what to do.

Flammable cladding

Cladding is any material that’s used for the external surface of a building. For apartment blocks, it’s typically applied for both insulation and decorative purposes. The Grenfell Tower used a particular type of cladding known as aluminium composite which is considered to be a more flammable material. Aluminium composite panels (ACP) have an outer layer of thin aluminium that’s laminated to a polyurethane or mineral core.

ACP with a polyethylene core of more than 30 percent has been banned for high-rise multi-storeyed buildings, or any residential building above three storeys high, in Victoria. In both  Victoria and South Australia, the state governments are conducting comprehensive audits on affected buildings. This is because any cladding with a polyethylene core may be of concern. But if the risk is deemed to be low, your state government’s audit team might decide it’s safe for residents to continue living in the apartment blocks.

What to do about flammable cladding in an apartment block

Those living in an apartment block will naturally be concerned about potentially flammable cladding in their building. If you own apartment blocks or are a developer, you probably likewise have concerns about the flammable cladding. Always obtain legal advice if you have any doubts about your legal responsibilities and risks, and check with experts like building surveyors.

Who to contact

If you’re a building owner, start by contacting a builder or the cladding manufacturer for a materials certificate. Also find out the fire rating for the cladding from either or both. If you can’t determine the fire rating, contact a building engineer for an expert opinion on the compliance of your cladding with respect to the building code. This should include checking the material itself as well as whether it was installed correctly. If you discover that your cladding is defective or non-compliant as a product or by installation, make sure you contact your insurer as well.

If you’re a resident, get in touch with the owner of the building and the strata managers (or body corporate). Check with them to confirm your building’s fire safety systems are working correctly. If you have concerns the owner or management bodies can’t resolve, contact your local council or state regulatory authority.

Who is responsible for cladding

Cladding is regulated by laws like the National Construction Code. Although it’s a federal law, the states are in charge of enforcement, and generally builders and building surveyors have a high degree of responsibility when it comes to ensuring cladding complies with the code. Given this, whether you’re an owner or resident, you’ll probably want to work with experts like builders and building engineers to make sure the apartment block is safe.

Who bears the costs

If your cladding isn’t compliant, it’s not yet clear who will bear the cost. However, owners might be able to take action against builders (including by contacting the relevant authority in your state or territory). According to some reports, building owners and owners corporations have been paying for the cladding replacement costs. But a class action lawsuit against construction companies underway in Victoria could shed light on how these costs are likely to be borne in the future.

Keep in mind potential costs include more than replacement costs. They can include costs for testing, gathering documentation, and additional remediation or mitigation efforts. Additionally, insurance premiums are likely to rise by as much as threefold if your building has been affected by flammable cladding.

Know the risks and responsibilities

The flammable cladding issue has led to a high level of uncertainty for owners, occupiers, and builders. It’s important to learn as much as you can to ensure you’re minimising physical risk to yourself if you’re an occupier. If you’re a builder or owner, you’ll also want to educate yourself on the issue so as to avoid exposing residents to risk and yourself to legal liability. Do everything to ensure your building is compliant and obtain legal advice if you have any concerns.

Strata Data is one of Australia’s leading body corporate managers and we love building better communities. We’re committed to making it easy for body corporates to manage their properties with tailored options and sound advice. Contact us to arrange a free proposal today.