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INSURANCE CLAMP DOWN ON LEAKS & MAINTENANCE IN RESIDENTIAL STRATA

February 22, 2024

If you are like me, you would have noticed the recent clamp down on body corporate insurance claims – especially claims relating to damage caused by defects in the building that allow water to leak into habitable areas.  It seems that body corporate insurers are taking a dim view on bodies corporate that are unable to demonstrate a culture of pro-active maintenance of their waterproofing systems.

If the body corporate has a history of water leaking into apartments and multiple claims lodged for water damage repairs – coupled with no evidence of routine maintenance on waterproofing systems – the insurer may start denying claims and/or requiring the body corporate to obtain specialist or engineering reports and undertake maintenance.

Water damage

Water ingress and resultant damage is one of the top 3 defects in residential strata complexes around Australia [refer University research study into defects – Dr. Nicole Johnstone of Deakin University – An examination of building defects in residential multi-owned properties 2019] and will probably be experienced by almost every residential strata complex at some point within its life cycle.  Evidence of water leaks does not automatically confirm shonky construction work, but water leaks do require urgent and immediate remedial action from the body corporate.

Waterproofing systems

So what are insurers looking at in terms of waterproofing systems in the common property of a residential strata scheme?  Here are the five main waterproofing systems that provide protection against the threat of water damage:

  1. Roof: – Roof and rainwater disposal system [gutters and downpipes] are an integral part of the waterproofing systems for protecting the building against water ingress. Whether the roof is metal decking, concrete roof tiles or a waterproofed concrete slab [or a combination], the roof needs regular routine inspecting and servicing to maintain in optimal condition.
  2. Windows & Doors: – The windows and doors within the complex are also a common source of water leaks and can cause a breach of the waterproofing barriers across the building.  Windows and doors also need routine inspecting and servicing to protect against defects that will allow water leaks to penetrate apartment interiors.
  3. Waterproof Membranes: – Where waterproof membranes are installed to protect against water ingress these also need inspecting routinely to ensure integrity. This includes balcony or deck waterproofing, wet area waterproofing, planter-box waterproofing, etc.  A visual inspection will be the first step.  Where signs of water leaks are detected, an invasive survey will be the next step [i.e. where linings, tiles or planter box soils are removed to inspect the concealed membrane areas].
  4. Drains: – Something as simple as clearing leaf litter out of the storm water drain, and/or cleaning leaves out of eaves gutters to unblock the storm water system is a simple strategy for avoiding water ingress.  Blocked drains are a primary cause of flooding due to rainwater being unable to drain away effectively.   Flooding can also occur if drains are insufficient or poorly constructed, for example where water flows into the habitable areas from the exterior via balconies and decks [e.g. where falls are not correctly set] or blocked drains not discharging effectively, etc.
  5. External Painting: – This is where bodies corporate undervalue the full external repaint for the property – especially if the external cladding is rendered/painted. Masonry finishes can tend to shrink and crack and allow water ingress if left unresolved.  Once water gets in behind the paint membrane it is very difficult to get it out and it will slowly erode the structural integrity of the substrate.

Prevention is better than cure!

Best leak prevention advice to bodies corporate is a routine of proactive inspections and servicing of the waterproofing systems within the property, including: –

  • Roof – Annual inspection by a licensed contractor. The scope of works should include full access to the roofs and rainwater disposal infrastructure, along with completion of minor repairs that can be done on the spot, and a report on any defects discovered during the inspection that need proper quoting.
  • Windows & Doors – Annual inspection by a licensed contractor with minor repairs delivered on the spot and a report on items that need quoting. For inaccessible windows, consider getting the rope access technicians to inspect when doing the annual building wash down.
  • Membranes – Have an annual inspection by a specialist contractor who has a good eye for tell-tale signs of early membrane failure. Membranes typically have a 10 year warranty period but can fail much earlier if there is building movement causing cracks to form, and/or plant roots penetrating the membrane as gardens mature in planter boxes.  Act on early signs of membrane failure to prevent a bigger issue.
  • Drains – Coordinate and arrange a licensed plumber/drainer to undertake an annual inspection of all storm water drains to ensure no blockages or cracks have formed. Ensure the caretaker or building manager is keeping the accessible drains clean and free of blockages.
  • External repainting – Keep the annual paint wash downs going each year and get touch-ups done where necessary. Ensure the full repaint is undertaken in accordance with the paint supplier recommendations [e.g. every 10 years generally – contact paint supplier for confirmation].

Any body corporate that undertakes a regime of proactive inspecting and servicing of the waterproofing systems within the building [such as detailed above] will not only have an audit trail of vigilance in proactive maintenance to present to the insurer at renewal time, but will be highly unlikely to have any leaks!

Article Contributed by Lynda Kypriadakis, Managing Director, Diverse Group of Companies 

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