DESPITE repeated calls to every authority she could think of, Richmond pensioner Theresa McArthur’s pleas for help to stop her backyard flooding went unanswered until recently.
Ms McArthur lives next door to a Teviot Street block of land, where a two-story duplex is being built, and thanks to the recent rain her backyard has become inundated with at least an inch of water in some parts on two occasions.
She said that with not much sun over recent weeks, the damp had spread under her house, and had begun to creep inside, giving her chills.
Downpipes on the house were only fitted on February 14, despite repeated calls from Ms McArthur to the private certifier, Joe El-Masri, the builder, Joseph Botros, as well as Hawkesbury Council, NSW Fair Trading and the Building Professionals Board.
The Gazette contacted Mr Botros, who said he had been unable to do much work on the site because of the rain, and as soon as things dried up he would attend to the matter.
“We've told her [Ms McArthur] any damage and any inconvenience we are happy to pay for it,” Mr Botros said.
“We've had rain for three weeks. We haven't been able to work in the rain.
“As soon as the rain stops we'll be onto it. If we have two days of sunshine we'll get onto it straight away. The boys were working in the rain yesterday, and she was abusing them. There is only so much people can take.”
Mr El-Masri, who privately certified the duplex, has issued Mr Botros with an infringement notice, to fix the issues with flooding.
Mr Botros was also made to fix a gutter, which was overhanging onto Ms McArthur’s property and that work has been completed.
“The overhanging gutter was rectified two weeks ago and we've got a surveyor report to say that it has been fixed,” he said.
The Gazette also contacted Mr El-Masri, but he said he was not allowed to talk to the media.
Ms McArthur said the owner of the property next door had rung her and was very apologetic when he found out what had been happening.
She said he had offered to fix her air-conditioning unit, which she was afraid to turn on, after water had got into it a few weeks ago.
Passing the buck
Over the past three weeks, Ms McArthur contacted a number of government agencies, as reported above, to resolve the issue, but feels she was brushed aside by all of them.
She said originally she contacted Hawkesbury Council, but was told the issue had nothing to do with them and that she must contact the private certifier, Joe El-Masri.
Hawkesbury Council approved the knock-down of the previous property on the site, and approved the construction of the duplex, and then Mr El-Masri certified the duplex design.
Hawkesbury Council told The Gazette that if Ms McArthur was not happy with Mr El-Masri’s response to her concerns, she could contact the Building Professionals Board.
The Gazette contacted the BPB, who referred our comments to the state Department of Finance, Services and Innovation and Fair Trading.
A Fair Trading spokesperson said ultimate responsibility to ensure complying development was done correctly lay with the owner or developer.
They said Councils could apply infringement notices to private certifiers if the development did not meet all the conditions applied to it.
Hawkesbury councillor Nathan Zamprogno looked into the development, and said he was surprised something do big could be approved.
“Local residents are entitled to be concerned about this type of redevelopment,” he said.
In the case at hand a modest 50s era home was demolished to be replaced by a duplex so big it overhangs the fence.
“Surely that fails a common sense test.”
Cr Zamprogno said perhaps it was time to change the rules regarding how close houses can be to boundary lines.
“Buildings of this type are too large for their blocks and our planning laws should ensure all developments are of a suitable scale for their environments,” he said.
“If indeed the development was completely compliant with the relevant codes, then I would say that the code needs to change.”
Cr Zamprogno added it should be clearer who the responsible body for handling complaints was.
“Council says the certifier is the first port of call, and the Building Professionals Board says that Councils have a role too,” he said.
“Of course, local residents simply come to Council first and expect things to happen, which is why I became engaged. I have no objection in principle to private certifiers, but they need to feel that Councils are monitoring their performance to encourage them to be proactive and do their jobs.”