A couple has been left tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket after they found out their investment property was built illegally.
A Sydney couple who have lived in Australia for 16 years say they were shocked to find out that their first investment property bought last year was illegally built.
Sangeeta*, a government servant in New South Wales spent nearly half million dollars on a house and land package in Collingwood Park in Brisbane. Not only was the construction of the dual-occupancy house so bad that it was considered a “risk to public safety”, the whole dwelling was also declared illegal as it was constructed without any planning permits.
The couple bought the property in September last year from a Brisbane real estate firm recommended to them by a friend.
“It was our first investment property and since the seller was recommended by a friend, we took their word on its face value,” Sangeeta told SBS Punjabi.
The issue emerged seven months after the purchase when the tenant complained to Ipswich Council about safety issues in the house. Council inspectors found that the house was in a “dangerous condition” due to poor workmanship.
The Council informed the couple in April this year that there was no record of any building permits being issued for the construction, which it said was an offence. It said failing to act on its enforcement notice could attract a maximum penalty of $567,675.
The Council also informed them that a dual occupancy dwelling was not allowed to be built in Collingwood Park as it had been designated as a low-density population area.
Ipswich City Council told SBS Punjabi that a building permit for the property was issued in 2006 but it lapsed in 2008.
Sangeeta says she relied upon her conveyancer who was recommended by the seller, for the due diligence.
“Now I realise that I should have hired an independent conveyancer, instead of going for the one suggested by the seller. But still, he was representing me and it was his duty to protect my interest.
“But contrary to my belief, the conveyancer did not let me know that I was entitled to a final pre-inspection or an inspection by a professional. And after these issues were discovered, he is trying to wash his hands off the whole thing,” Sangeeta tells SBS Punjabi.
She has since spent $15,000 to have the building repaired so that it’s safe to live in. She is also hiring a private certifier to obtain completion certificates from the Council. Despite it being a new house, she’s not likely to have it covered under the builder warranty as the subcontractor who built the house has declared bankruptcy.
The seller did not return SBS Punjabi’s calls and text messages.
Sangeeta also questions the role of the Council.
“I have been paying the rates for this property, there are utilities connected and we paid the stamp duty at the purchase of this property - shouldn’t the Council have known sooner that this house was built illegally?” she questions.
Ipswich Council says the law requires property owners to ensure all necessary permits and completion certificates are obtained. It says there are various online tools for buyers and their legal representatives to identify non-compliance.
“For example, an application for a building and plumbing records search would produce a list of all known building and plumbing approvals and relevant inspection dates archived by the council for a property,” a Council spokesperson said.
“Property owners are encouraged to direct these matters including licensee conduct to the Queensland Building and Construction Commission, who are regulators of the building industry in Queensland,” the spokesperson added.
But for Sangeeta, it has been a very costly lesson.
"I was sold this property as a dual key, double occupancy with two potential rental incomes, so I paid a premium for it. Now, on top of the repairs and other expenses, the property value is far less than what I originally paid for it," she says.
"In hindsight, I could have done things differently but the question is, don't authorities have a role in this?"
*Last name not revealed to protect the identity.