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Editions
August 09 Edition Cover

Council fails to curb short-stays

30 Oct 2014

Council fails to curb short-stays Image

After three years and a legal bill of more than $350,000, the City of Melbourne has failed to curb short-stay apartments in the Watergate building.

All the council has to show for its time and money is the installation of  smoke alarms and fire orders in affected apartments.

The long-running Watergate saga reached a practical completion on October 23, with parties agreeing to settle the case at a Building Appeal Board (BAB) hearing.

Docklands Executive Apartment operator Paul Salter and the City of Melbourne came to agreement on two key issues relating to the safety of the building Docklands, with Mr Salter agreeing to install fire orders on the back of doors smoke alarms in the bedrooms of the apartments he manages.

After funding legal teams for two BAB hearings, a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeals hearing, spanning two and a half years, a City of Melbourne spokesperson said the council welcomed the decision.

“The City of Melbourne welcomes the decision of the Building Appeals Board, which upheld and varied the building orders issued by council’s Municipal Building Surveyor.”

“The parties consented to the majority of matters. The decision is important because it will improve the safety of building occupants,” the spokesperson said.

“The owners of apartments being used for short-term use at Watergate Apartments must now undertake works to improve fire safety, including upgrading smoke alarms.”

“The final orders of the Building Appeals Board are yet to be issued and it is unknown whether the Watergate Owners' Corporation (OC) will also be required to undertake works.”

The Building Appeals Board is yet to determine whether the OC will be required to install exit signage in common property areas of the building but this determination concludes the case.

Both the council and Mr Salter have agreed to pay their own costs for the BAB hearings.

The City of Melbourne spokesperson confirmed council’s legal costs, excluding the most recent BAB proceeding, totalled $346,727.

“All legal proceedings regarding this matter required a high-level of legal representation given the significance of this result for the classification of buildings in the City of Melbourne and nationally,” the spokesperson said.

Mr Salter declined to comment on the outcome of the case until it had been formalised through the BAB determination.

Last month’s agreement puts a practical end to a case that started in 2011 when the council issued building orders against owners of short-stay apartments in the Watergate building.

Under the Building Code of Australia, Watergate is classified as a Class 2 building.

Mr Salter unsuccessfully appealed these orders at the BAB in 2012, but successfully appealed this decision at the Supreme Court in 2013, which remitted the case to the BAB.

The council then unsuccessfully appealed the Supreme Court decision at the Court of Appeals, which also remitted the case to the BAB, where the matter was ultimately resolved last month.

Throughout the BAB and Supreme Court hearings, much of the discussion had focused on the issue of defining Class 2 and Class 3 buildings.

However, this issue was put to the side at last month’s BAB hearing, with the focus being on what changes were necessary to ensure safety.

Docklands News understands that the safety measures agreed on by the parties would place the short-stay apartments at a level in between the Class 2 and Class 3 classifications.

While the BAB case has come to a close, the Watergate short-stay issue is not completely over.

In August, the Watergate owners’ corporation (OC) filed VCAT action against nine owners of short-stay apartments managed by Docklands Executive Apartments, over alleged breaches of OC rules.

The date of the first VCAT hearing is unknown but Mr Salter confirmed he would appear at VCAT on behalf of the owners.

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