'They’re death traps': Photos highlight Australia's high-rise 'construction crisis'

Photos shared online by Sydney property consultant Edwin Almeida highlight the dodgy work and shortcuts that are rife in the construction industry, he says.

According to him, media reports about recent evacuations of residents from high-rise apartment buildings in Sydney are “just the tip of the iceberg” as a lack of oversight in the construction industry has led to high-rise “death traps” dotting city skylines across the country.

Photos, which Mr Almeida said were sent to him by tradesmen working on high rise apartment buildings in Queensland show leaky plumbing, crumbling support beams and disintegrating concrete slabs.

In some cases, the concrete has begun deteriorating before the building has even finished completion.

“It’s a mess, a lot of these buildings will need to get pulled down,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “They’re death traps.”

Concrete pillars can be seen with big cracks, and concrete which is deteriorating.
Pictures shared by Mr Almeida on Twitter last week are reportedly from yet-to-be-completed high-rise buildings in Queensland, but are already showing serious signs of disrepair. Source: Twitter/Just Think Property

“I’ve been exposing dodgy developments in buildings for many years,” Mr Almeida said.

“I’ve got somebody in there that worked in that complex for over a year,” he explained about the photos he shared.

“The only people left to expose this are those people working on site.” But complaints often don’t lead anywhere.

“They’ve been trying to expose this with the local authorities for a very long time, but it seems to fall on deaf ears,” Mr Almeida said.

Calls for inquiry into Australian ‘construction crisis’

Sydney has received much of the attention over shoddy building practices since residents were evacuated from Opal Tower in December and forced out of Mascot Tower last month due to structural issues.

While Sydney built more apartments than anywhere else during the recent real estate boom, Mr Almeida says serious problems exist in other cities and it’s simply a matter of time until more problem buildings become public.

“It’s a big problem in all states,” he said. “It’s not different in Melbourne, it’s not different in Brisbane.

“What you, I and the general public see, is just the tip of the iceberg.”

He believes there are plenty of body corporates battling with developers over major building defects but don’t want them to become public out of fear it will cause the value of their apartments to drop.

On Sunday, an apartment complex in Melbourne’s CBD was evacuated after a water main burst and flooded the basement and impacted the building’s electricity.

In recent weeks, coverage across the media has warned about the potential dangers of buying high rise apartments. And all this is happening at a time when a number of large projects are yet to be completed, prompting concerns over plummeting prices.

Philip Soos from LF Economics, and who has extensively studied fraud in the mortgage market, is among those who believe a Royal Commission in needed to address the issues faced by the industry.

Standards are high, but enforcement is not

Many industry observers point to deregulation in recent decades and the privatisation of building certifiers in NSW, meaning certification is done by private contractors engaged by the developer rather than an independent government body, as part of the problem.

“The funny thing is that we have very high standards. Compared to the rest of the world we have very high standards,” Mr Almeida said. “But they’re not adhered to.

“Policing in the construction industry is next to nothing. That’s the problem.”

The high-rise apartment building in Mascot now sits largely empty.
Residents of the high-rise in Mascot, in Sydney's inner-south, were evacuated as a precaution after cracks were discovered in the building this month. Source: AAP/Danny Casey

He believes there are conflicts of interest that are often allowed to exist between local councillors, developers and private regulators which result in a lack of proper oversight.

Speaking to Yahoo News, Mr Almeida said he had seen a myriad of shoddy practices during his many years in the industry.

“Poor quality concrete, concrete not poured properly, not enough reinforced steel in the slabs to handle the stress,” he recalled.

“Sometimes they don’t let the concrete cure properly before they slap on the next level,” he said. “In some cases they’re not even level to begin with.

“I’ve seen load-bearing walls that are off by 20 to 30 millimetres in some cases. They have got to be precise.”

The NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Kevin Anderson, promised a major shake-up to the state’s construction industry on the weekend.

The state government is promising serious reforms, including appointing a building commissioner and the mandatory registration of engineers who worked on major apartment buildings.

“We will be fixing that problem very quickly and a raft of ­reforms will be put in place so that people can get confidence back into the construction industry,” he told reporters.

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