Griffiths / Why tenants should worry about Mr Fluffy

“Canberra is a city weighed down with regulation, but precious little compliance enforcement except when powerful interests are threatened,” writes Lowbrow columnist JOHN GRIFFITHS

WITH good reason there’s been a lot of talk about the Mr Fluffy insulation scandal.

John Griffiths

John Griffiths.

This month has seen the death of an electrician exposed to the toxic houses and there are still in the order of a thousand houses with wispy asbestos fibres leaching through them and into people’s lungs.

Despite announcing this week that former tenants can find out about past houses they’ve lived in (which is not much help for avoiding affected houses on the market right now), the ACT Government’s first instinct has been to protect the interests of the affected homeowners.

As a result there is a resistance to create a public register of houses to be avoided beyond, by January, law-enforced high-visibility tags in meter boxes for Mr Fluffy houses at least making it easier for tradespeople to know when they are working on a house with loose-fill asbestos.

The ACT Government, in a breathtaking piece of blissful, wilful, naivety, notes that landlords are legally required to disclose the status of the houses to tenants.

Let’s cast our minds on all the other things people are legally required to do that don’t happen all the time.

They’re not meant to run red lights or drink drive. They’re meant to pay award wages and send PAYG tax to the tax office and super payments to the nominated fund. They’re meant to run safe construction sites.

Even if we contend that most Canberrans are law abiding, it’s hard to avoid the ugly reality that some are most definitely not.

How is a former tenant developing mesothelioma supposed to identify exactly which house was the problem and seek redress 20 years after being exposed to asbestos?

It gets worse when you think about group house situations.

Often the lease-signatory who might have been informed of the problem is years gone with the house sharers turning over and the landlord barely involved as long as the rent turns up.

It’s all very well to say share-house lessees should do more to formalise their tenancy arrangements, but people living in share houses are normally doing so because they lack other housing options.

Do we really trust every tradesman in town to not shove their apprentice into the roof to get the job done? All of them?

What about handymen and friends of friends who have no trade accreditation or training but find themselves pressed into service?

Canberra is a city weighed down with regulation, but precious little compliance enforcement except when powerful interests are threatened.

If people could be relied on to voluntarily do the right thing we wouldn’t have ended up in this mess in the first place.

The ACT Government is whimsically hoping that the Abbott Government is going to stump up millions of dollars to compensate homeowners so they can demolish the houses and start again.

One hopes the demolition process will be done carefully but one suspects, based on history, that the lowest price method that holds up to the bare minimum of scrutiny will again win out. I wouldn’t want to live next door when one comes down.



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