A young family face living on the streets after refusing to return to their gutted one-bedroom apartment that was destroyed more than three years ago by fire.
George Ojaimi and his wife Josiane’s dream apartment in Brunswick, Melbourne complex Anstey Square went up in flames due to a faulty air conditioner in March 2017.
The 105-apartment/retail complex had been wrapped in non-compliant combustible cladding, which saw the fire spread to another unit.
George Ojaimi and his wife Josiane’s dream property at Brunswick apartment complex Anstey Square went up in flames due to a faulty air conditioner in March 2017. It remains a wreck
The balcony of George Ojaimi and his wife Josiane’s Brunswick apartment remains wrecked three years after it went up in flames
Two apartments in the complex were damaged by fire in March 2017. They remain that way years later
London’s Grenfell tower disaster, where 72 people died after fire rapidly spread through combustible cladding, forced the Victorian Government to commission a statewide audit that year.
A taskforce identified 432 extreme or high-risk buildings in need of repair, with Anstey Square identified as one of the top 15 worst in Victoria.
Mr Ojaimi told Daily Mail Australia that his apartment has remained in the exact same state of disrepair as the day of the fire.
‘Not a single nail has been hammered into a wall and we are finding ourselves on the verge of coping the biggest hit in our lives due to a rotten system and lack of communication, responsibility and action,’ he said.
The Ojaimi’s, who have had a baby in the years since the fire, said they were initially told by their insurer, Assetinsure, the repairs would take just six months.
The company has paid for their rental property since, but has told them if they refuse to return to the fire damaged apartment, the money will be cut off.
Assetinsure unleashed its lawyers six months ago in an effort to encourage the family to agree to a two-stage fixing agreement for the apartment starting with the internal structure.
In a letter dated last month, the insurer blamed the Victorian Building Authority for the need for the staged repairs.
The couple reluctantly agreed to comply, but quickly ascertained the rectification plan limited access to fresh air and ventilation except through 10cm gap allowed through the balcony door opening.
The now family of three had outgrown the apartment and had wanted to move on with their lives.
Making matters worse, Mrs Ojaimi suffers from a respiratory condition that would likely be aggravated by the prolonged construction work.
George Ojaimi and his wife Josiane have been told they have to return to their apartment or have their rent cut off
The Ojaimis have had a child since the blaze and had wanted to move on with their lives. Instead they are being forced to return to the wrecked apartment
Anstey Square went up in flames due to a faulty air conditioner in March 2017. It was coated in non-compliant combustible cladding, which saw the fire spread to another unit
How it happened
March 8, 2017: A faulty air conditioner in the Ojaimi’s apartment causes a fire that spreads due to non-compliant combustible cladding, which saw the fire spread to another unit
The Ojiami family is forced to move into ‘temporary’ rental property
June 2017: London’s Grenfell tower goes up in flames and kills 72 people. The tower is covered in combustible cladding.
July 2017: Victorian State Government established the Victorian Cladding Taskforce to investigate the extent of non-compliant and non-conforming external cladding on Victorian buildings
Victorian Government announced a $600 million plan to fix 500 private buildings considered at the highest risk of fire
The Ojiami’s remain in rental housing for three years while the government works out who is responsible for fixing the cladding issues on buildings across the state
Sep 2020: Victorian Parliament passed the Cladding Safety Victoria Bill 2020
The bill threatens to increase the time limit on compensation claims from 10 to 12 years
October 2020: The Ojaimi family it told to move back into the apartment amid claims by the insurer that a two staged repair must be conducted
‘Assetinsure is bravely dictating on us the need to live in the partially fixed apartment, us, the family of three, instead of searching for tenants,’ Mr Ojaimi said.
‘And they’re forgetting that our decision to rent the apartment out is not a business venture, but a matter of obligating circumstances, and further, is our right as owners that no one could deny us.’
The family had been given until Friday to accept the deal or risked being booted out of their rental home.
Assetinsure CEU Gregor Pfitzer refused to comment when questioned by Daily Mail Australia.
‘As you have noted, the matter has gone to our lawyers and we will not comment further,’ he stated via email.
After the fire, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pledged to pay half of the $600 million it said was needed to rectify cladding on 432 ‘high-risk ‘ privately owned buildings, in an attempt to end an impasse that left owners across the state with devalued and unsellable apartments.
Research from RMIT University later estimated that the cost for rectification could reach as high as $4.9 billion.
The Victorian Building Authority had been in charge of the cladding issue until The Cladding Safety Victoria Bill was introduced last year.
The bill recently separated Cladding Safety Victoria, the agency responsible for overseeing the state’s $600 million, from the VBA.
‘This entity was supposed to start immediate work with the owners of these 15 apartment buildings and fund them to remove cladding on their buildings,’ Mr Ojaimi said.
‘Throwing the ball from one court to the other, we reached April 2020 and Cladding Safety Victoria was still indecisive about the method of cladding rectification.’
Six more months has since dragged on under a mountain of red tape.
‘Little does this governmental body realise that while they are abusing every possible time frame under the excuse of creating the best rectification approach with minimal impact on resident’s life, they are ruining other residents’ lives,’ Mr Ojaimi said.
London’s Grenfell tower disaster in 2017 where 72 people died due to dodgy fire cladding
After the fire, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pledged to pay half of the $600 million it said was needed to rectify cladding on 432 ‘high-risk ‘ privately owned buildings in Victoria
Making matters worse, the Hickory Group’s subsidiary, which owned the building, has since gone bust.
‘No surveyor was willing to sign off an approval for the insurance suggested repairs,’ Mr Ojaimi said.
‘The only body that could afford full responsibility of works being taken on our high-risk building is now the governmental body.’
Even the apartment block’s owners corporation has turned on the Ojaimis, demanding they agree to the proposals using lawyers supposedly acting for the tenants.
‘We knocked all doors and took every possible avenue to speed up solving our situation, after all, our family is growing, life evolving and no one should be forced to be stuck in his four year old past, especially not when we are a young family,’ Mr Ojaimi said.
‘No bank is taking our application for a home loan seeing that we can no longer fit in a one-bedroom apartment and we need to up size.
‘Now the insurance dispute can take us back, further than square one, but to underground levels.’
A VBA spokesman said there was ‘nothing’ precluding a building permit being issued to repair damage caused by the fire at Anstey Square.
‘This was relayed by the VBA to the private building surveyor in November 2019,’ a statement read.
‘Repairs to individual apartments at Anstey Square are a matter for the private building surveyor engaged to complete these functions.
‘At the time of the fire, the Victorian Building Authority was not the municipal building surveyor, this was Moreland City Council.
‘The removal of combustible cladding is a separate issue and is being handled by Cladding Safety Victoria.’
Trapped in limbo, Mrs Ojaimi feels like they are being played.
‘The truth about what is stopping our repairs needs to be unveiled, and we shouldn’t be the ones paying the price,’ she said.