Building Defects, Death and Dying

On Death & Dying (grief)

The Swiss American psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her landmark 1969 work “On Death and Dying” described the five steps people go through when they are told they have a terminal disease and are about to die. The five steps are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

People who have bought an apartment with building defects go through a similar range of emotions and it’s important for strata managers and body corporate members to be able to identify them.

Denial – if we can put people on the moon and feed billions of people, how is it possible that the apartment I paid $600,000 for …….. leaks!!!  It can’t be possible and yet it still leaks every time it rains. This stage is a short one.

Anger – some people just like being angry. And it can last for years. Strata managers are particularly familiar with this stage as they are the first to be called when there’s a problem. After a while this anger is transferred to the builder, developer, government and anyone else who might be remotely connected to the building.

Bargaining – here the owner negotiates about how they’ll deal with the defect. “I’ll deal with it after my exam, overseas holiday, cosmetic surgery or [whatever other excuse they can find]” or “This is the problem of my strata manager, building manager, local member, Office of Fair Trading and [anyone else but me], they should deal with it.”

Depression – it’s all too hard. The builder has come back dozens of times, there’s more silicon in the roof than in 100 Dolly Partons and the roof still leaks. There’s nothing that can be done except give up.

Acceptance – This is the revelation that the defects won’t fix themselves, I’m the person responsible for the building and I need to deal with it. It’s only at this point that things begin to move in a constructive direction.

And different people move through the stages at different speeds. In my experience, owners who have a commercial or business background are able to get to acceptance more quickly than others. It is up to them as well as strata managers to understand what stages the owners are going through and to help them through the stages. This is important as the more owners reach acceptance, the more likely:

(a) they act in a constructive and co-ordinated way;

(b) consequential damage to lot and common property is minimised;

(c) key limitations periods associated with insurance policies and litigation are not missed; and

(d) the defects get addressed in an appropriate way.

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