Assessing and fixing cladding – a start-to-finish guide for building and apartment owners

Step 1: Identification

A building is identified in the project scope for the Statewide Cladding Audit. Buildings identified for assessment include:

  • Apartment buildings (class 2) – three storeys or higher.
  • Short-term accommodation buildings (class 3), such as hotels, motels and student accommodation – three storeys or higher.
  • Public buildings (class 9), such as private hospitals, private schools and aged care facilities – two storeys or higher.

Step 2: Risk prioritisation

Buildings are prioritised for inspection based on several factors, including:

  • Intelligence from local councils that confirm the likelihood of expanded polystyrene or aluminium composite panels on an in-scope building;
  • Vulnerability of occupants (aged care facilities, hospitals, child care);
  • Use of the building (likely number of occupants, and whether they sleep in the building);
  • History of the builder, building surveyor and fire engineer;
  • Height of building; and
  • Date of construction.

An inspection is scheduled by arrangement between the VBA and the building owner / manager or owners corporation.

Step 3: Inspection and audit report

A building inspector meets the owner / manager and assesses the building from the street and inside common areas. In some cases, the inspector will seek permission to access private rooms / balconies to assess the cladding from different vantage points.

Access to private lots occurs with the occupier’s informed consent. All VBA inspectors carry ID and are appropriately trained and skilled to conduct the cladding inspections. The owners corporation is asked to notify all owners of the building.

If the inspector is unable to determine the type of cladding conclusively, a discrete product identification test may be required. The VBA will conduct the test at no cost to the owner and seal the area to ensure it is weatherproof and inconspicuous.

Expanded polystyrene is usually identifiable during on-site testing while Aluminum Composite Panels sometimes require expert analysis off site.

If it is clear there is no cladding on the building, it is ruled out-of-scope and no further action is required.

Step 4: Panel review and risk assessment

An expert panel risk assesses the building using the information collected during the inspection. The expert panel includes a building surveyor, a representative from the MFB or CFA, and a fire engineer.

If required, the expert panel recommends steps to reduce the fire risk of the building. This may include recommending the Municipal Building Surveyor issues emergency orders which require the owners of the building to take immediate steps to make the building safer.

The actions required depend on the type of cladding, the fire risks it presents and the fire safety systems in the building.

Regardless, the building / apartment owners and residents will be notified of the expert panel recommendations by the VBA.

Step 5: MBS issues emergency order

The Municipal Building Surveyor may issue an emergency order for short-term fire safety measures such as:

  • Installing additional smoke alarms;
  • Ensuring the alarm system alerts the relevant fire authority;
  • Removing cladding from near exits;
  • Clearing access to emergency exits;
  • Removing potential ignition sources such as barbecues, rubbish bins, cars from near cladding; and
  • Turning off electrical items with cabling through cladding.

Whilst the order is in force, the emergency order must be disclosed on Section 32 statements, to ensure prospective purchasers are aware.

Step 6: Emergency works undertaken by owner

The building owner or owners’ corporation implements the specified fire safety measures within a short timeframe.

Step 7: MBS oversees emergency works

The local council’s Municipal Building Surveyor assesses the emergency works and, once satisfied the fire risk of the building has been reduced to a tolerable level, removes the emergency order.

Step 8: Building Notice

The Municipal Building Surveyor issues a Building Notice.

For higher-risk buildings, where the VBA is the Municipal Building Surveyor, risk reduction strategies will be proposed by the VBA to guide owners about works that should be done to fix the building.

The removal and replacement of all cladding will be one option available to building owners.

Alternatively, owners might be required to do one or some of the following:

  • Complete replacement of combustible cladding;
  • Partial replacement of combustible cladding around specific areas, such as balconies and exits; or
  • Other approved measures to prevent the spread of fire and ensure safe exit from the building, such as upgrading sprinkler systems, isolating stairwells and removing ignition sources.

The Building Notice must be disclosed on Section 32 statements to ensure prospective purchasers are aware.

Step 9: Response to Building Notice

Owners will need to meet with the VBA or their Municipal Building Surveyor to develop a plan to address the issues raised in the Building Notice. This may result in a plan to:

  • Replace all of the cladding;
  • Adopt the risk-reduction strategies provided in the VBA’s Building Notice;
  • Engage a fire safety engineer to assess whether a performance solution might be possible; or
  • Appeal the notice to the Building Appeals Board.

Step 10: Building Appeals Board determines compliance

If the owners agree to implement any of the risk reduction strategies suggested by the VBA, the VBA will facilitate an application to the Building Appeals Board, who can determine if the solution would also bring the building into compliance with the relevant rules and regulations. The Building Appeals Board can also hear appeals by owners against building notices and orders.

This step is not required if full replacement of cladding is proposed.

Step 11: Finance support

Building owners can apply to enter into a low-cost finance scheme called a Cladding Rectification Agreement (CRA). The proposal is a three-way arrangement between owners, lenders and the council.

A CRA is voluntary. A charge will appear on the rates notice and the debt is secured by the property. If sold, the CRA moves onto the next owner to service. A CRA is for building work only. It does not include finance reports or project management fees.

Step 12: Works undertaken

A Building Order is issued by the Municipal Building Surveyor requiring building work to be undertaken.

The owners will appoint a building surveyor who will issue a building permit.

Depending on the circumstances, building owners may need to engage some or all of the following types of practitioners:

  • Builder;
  • Quantity surveyor;
  • Draftsperson / designer / architect;
  • Fire engineer; and
  • Project manager.

For major building works such as complete replacement of combustible cladding, building owners should seek quotes from at least three builders.

Step 13: Financial dispute resolution

Owners access dispute resolution.

Step 14: Amended occupancy permit

Occupancy permit is amended by the Municipal Building Surveyor, if appropriate.

The end result is a safe and compliant building.