Damp in sectional title schemes, what to do?

17 Dec 2015

What happens in cases of older sectional title developments, where units are found to have severe damp and the unit’s structure could be undermined by the damp, an owner asks.

In this case it is not a new building and he wants to know where he should direct his problem.

Michael Bauer, general manager of the property management company IHFM, says that the problem here could be that with many older building methods the foundations were laid without enough drainage installed to divert manage groundwater or rainwater from the building or no damp barriers were installed to prevent rising damp.

There weren’t many of the newer technologies available to builders 20 or more years ago and often apartment buildings or townhouses were built with the minimal amount of sealing done to the foundations or walls just below ground level.

Nowadays, if there is a chance of damp, the buildings’ foundations will have damp barrier plastic applied not only to the foundations but a layer between the foundations and the walls, to avoid any seepage or rising damp, said Bauer. In many cases, drainage pipes are installed which then divert the water away from the building into the rainwater system.

Unfortunately, in cases such as the one mentioned above, insurance won’t cover the damage because they see this as poor workmanship or a design flaw, so the repair will have to be paid for by the owner and/or the body corporate, depending on what the source of the damp is.

If the problem is inside the median line, it would be the owner’s responsibility but if outside the body corporate would be responsible for the repair. In most cases, however, the body corporate would have to raise a special levy to carry out large projects so, indirectly, said Bauer, the owner still pays for the repairs to an extent.

The first thing to do would be to establish the source of the damp, whether it is from groundwater or whether there is a leaking pipe within the construction or rainwater from blocked or broken gutters.

If it is found to be that the moisture is seeping in from the ground, the solution could be the application of damp barrier plaster to the building, which has been proven to work, he said. In some cases a silicone barrier is chosen which is injected into the gaps in the walls to fill up any spaces where moisture might collect. This system’s application, however, is very expensive and time consuming.

“It is important for anyone buying into sectional title schemes to check how old the building is, and remember that there will always be thing to fix in older buildings over time. This is an unavoidable part of owning properties such as these. My advice would be to expect problems and, in this case particularly, it might need some compromise on the owner’s part, as he might not be able to get all the funds for the necessary repairs from the body corporate,” said Bauer.