Angel Worthington says she has experienced issues with the apartment since moving in. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Young mother Angel Worthington was less than thrilled to receive a letter telling her that structural problems had been identified in her Palmerston apartment block.
- Residents of a building affected by non-compliance issues at Tarakan Court in Palmerston voice their apprehension over the news
- It comes as the Infrastructure Department confirms that structural engineers have now been hired to assess the nine buildings in question
- The Building Practitioners Board also confirms that an inquiry into the engineer at the centre of the allegations has now been formed
Living there with her two-year-old son Ashley, she had been named in the unenviable lottery of about 200 people in nine buildings across Darwin and Palmerston whose blocks may have been botched in the design phase.
“I don’t think I’ve been informed enough — I think I should’ve received a call or an email straight away, instead of sending me a piece of paper in the mailbox,” said Ms Worthington, who has been renting the apartment for six months.
“[The owner] hasn’t called me, they haven’t texted me, not one email, just that letter to say things need to be done.”
Her apartment block on Tarakan Court in Johnston is run by Venture Housing Company, which provides low-cost housing to Territorians.
In a statement, Venture said it had “hand-delivered letters to all its tenants … advising them [of the possible structural issues]”.
The company said it had now hired a structural engineer to prepare a “detailed report”.
“Venture expects to receive this detailed structural engineer’s report later this week and will advise its tenants of the report’s findings,” it said.
Once the report has been handed down, and if repairs were found to be needed, homeowners could have a better idea about what financial burdens they could be up against.
Both Venture and the Infrastructure Department have said that none of the nine buildings had been deemed unsafe.
One of nine buildings affected by non-compliance issues, at Tarakan Court in Johnston. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Board triggers inquiry into engineer
A recent desktop analysis by the department revealed that all nine buildings had non-compliance issues relating to concrete structures known as “transfer slabs” — and that the same engineer responsible for all of them may have been involved in misconduct by approving them.
Now, the department has officially referred a complaint to the Building Practitioners Board to conduct an inquiry into whether engineer John Scott from JWS Constructions has engaged in misconduct, which, if proven, could lead to a suspension, fine or even cancellation of his licence. Currently, he remains registered as an approved certifier of construction work in the NT.
“I made sure there wouldn’t be any delay in the matter,” board chairman Paul Nowland told the ABC.
But action on prosecuting the man allegedly responsible for the issues could be cold comfort for the homeowners if they end up with a hefty bill.
An NT parliamentary committee in Darwin on Tuesday heard from departmental officials who confirmed that most of the owners would not be protected by an NT Government-regulated insurance scheme for some homeowners.
The Master Builders Fidelity Fund was launched by the NT Government in 2013 to protect consumers from defects.
“A lot of buildings are not covered by the Fidelity Fund because of the height of the buildings, and the age of the buildings,” said the department’s Mark Meldrum.
“Only a couple of them are covered by the Fidelity Fund.”
Angel Worthington and her toddler are among those affected by the engineer’s alleged misconduct. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Owners may have to push class action
But even if regulations meant the fund wouldn’t cover those affected, there could be scope to take legal action, said Master Builders NT executive director David Malone.
“They deserve to get a building that’s fit for purpose, that’s Australian consumer law,” Mr Malone said.
“So they would still be able to go back and say the building is not fit for purpose, and be able to take action against the builder and the building practitioners that might have been involved in that project.”
He said a class action could be the “most likely” outcome for homeowners if the structural damages were eventually proven and repairs were required.
“You would expect that if there is a class problem, then you’d expect to get some kind of class action back,” he said.
“But it’s probably too early to pre-empt that at this stage, because we just don’t know what the real affect of these issues are on the ground.”
Renter fears the prospect of relocation
One of those on the ground at the Tarakan Court address was renter Patrick Mossongo, a migrant from Congo with a background in the construction industry.
He was surprised that the non-compliance issues weren’t found earlier on in the project.
“You don’t inspect when the structure’s finished — you inspect from the beginning,” Mr Mossongo said.
Renter Patrick Mossongo and his son live in the building, and are hoping the repairs won’t cause issues. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
While he remained optimistic things would work out, he said if any future works meant he would have to move out, it would cause him and his family upheaval.
“If it comes to have to relocate, maybe it would be difficult, because to find a new place, I don’t think it would be easy in Darwin,” Mr Mossongo said.
The exact date of the Building Practitioners Board’s inquiry into Mr Scott’s conduct currently remained unclear.