Mitcham Council proposes to force homeowners selling houses to conduct bushfire safety checks

Mitcham Council proposes to force homeowners selling houses to conduct bushfire safety checks

22 April 2013

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Australia — HOUSES in bushfire zones will require mandatory safety inspections before they can be sold if the State Government adopts a plan proposed by a Hills council.

Emergency Services Minister Michael O’Brien is exploring Mitcham Council’s proposal to force people who are selling their homes to have their properties assessed and rated for bushfire safety compliance if they live in an at-risk zone.

Mitcham Mayor Michael Picton said it was too early to say who would pay for the assessments, which could include inspections of risky foliage and gutters, and confirmation that rainwater tanks and hoses are installed.

The move would require the backing of new state government legislation. Mr O’Brien has discussed the idea with the council and referred it to Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee.

Mr Picton said that in his council area, the proposal could affect 26,000 of its 67,000 residents.

“This is an idea. There’s been no work done on cost or who would undertake the inspections,” he said.

He believed it would be a positive selling point and could work in a similar way to pool safety legislation.

Property Council executive director Nathan Paine said while fire safety was critical, the property market was slow and any “new costs to people selling houses is of concern”.

Opposition Treasury spokesman Iain Evans, whose Davenport electorate covers Mitcham, said funds would be better spent doorknocking residents to address fire safety issues because some properties may only sell every 20 years and the safety plan did not cover renters.

Professionals Blackwood director Felix Zevenboom said such regulations would be difficult for agents and vendors.

“Are they looking at clearing native vegetation away from the homes to create a zone that is totally fireproof?” Mr Zevenboom asked.

“What would be involved in the inspections? Would our vendors need to make sure their gutters are cleaned and undergrowth is trimmed and that type of thing?

“It’s very hard to know where to draw the line. The majority of the houses in our suburbs wouldn’t comply with current codes and regulations … is the next stop by council to bring all of these homes up to current code?

“If so that would make it … financially unviable for vendors to recoup that type of expenditure.”

Adelaide Hills Council Mayor Bill Spragg said he did not agree with the proposal.

He said the cost to fit firefighting equipment was not financially viable for homeowners.

He estimated it would cost homeowners around $4000-$5000. His council had considered the proposal, but was unable to secure a State Government subsidy for homeowners to fit the equipment on properties in low bushfire risk areas.

New homes in medium, high, and extreme bushfire areas must have firefighting equipment installed.

“It is not a well thought-out demand to make of people,” he said.

Hawthorndene’s Dave Benson, 47, who owns rental properties in the Hills, did not support the move.

“The cost is going to have to be passed on to the consumer,” Mr Benson said. “Homes built before (the current standards) are going to accrue pretty big costs which makes it less profitable to sell.

“It’s going to make it hard to get the right sort of tenant in the area because it could push the price up.”

Country Fire Service preparedness operations director Leigh Miller said the proposed plan would likely reduce bushfire risks.

“The CFS will support any initiative by local government that will mitigate the risk of bushfire on private properties,” he said.

“Bushfire prevention is a shared responsibility between the CFS and South Australian communities which requires property owners to be proactive in reducing fuel loads.”

Real Estate Institute of SA CEO Greg Troughton said any change required thorough consultation.

“Clearly, safety must always be a priority, but purchasers are savvy and are aware of risks, so imposing heavy regulation needs to be carefully considered, as we don’t want to discourage investment in some local council areas,” he said.

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