Post-bushfire homes left uninsured

Post-bushfire homes left uninsured

16 January 2012

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Australia — DOZENS of homes rebuilt after the Black Saturday fires will face bushfire season uninsured.

Of the 76 homes destroyed in Whittlesea on February 7, 2009, only 24 have been rebuilt and granted an occupancy permit. Homes without an occupancy permit cannot legally be inhabited or insured.

Whittlesea council said it did not know how many people were living in homes without the necessary occupancy permit. NW understands several families in the area have rebuilt but cannot afford to pay for changes necessary to get a permit.

Whittlesea Community Recovery Committee chairman Larry Challis said some residents had jumped straight into rebuilding without understanding new bushfire building regulations.

He said some people had to spend an additional $130,000 to get their home up to standard to get the occupancy permit. “Nobody wants to know about it. It’s just too big a problem,” he said.

Building regulations introduced in September 2009 set out new requirements for rebuilding in bushfire-prone areas. For example, windows need to be at least 5mm thick, have bushfire shutters and be joined with metal or bushfire-resistant timber.

Mr Challis said those unable to get insurance because they were waiting on an occupancy permit were now “exactly back where they were in terms of risk”.

But a new Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund grant of up to $50,000 could help people finalise the rebuilding of their homes in accordance with the new fire safety regulations.

VBAF chairman Pat McNamara said the grant, announced in December, could help people pay for additional building costs associated with getting an occupancy permit.

Whittlesea council director of planning and major projects Steve O’Brien said that for the vast majority of buildings, occupancy permits were not approved on the first inspection.

He said achieving compliance with regulations, depending on the bushfire assessment level of the property, could be complicated.

Forty-three homeowners who lost their houses in Whittlesea during the Black Saturday fires are yet to obtain a building permit or start construction.

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