As older style residential apartments become aged and serious structural issues become more apparent, the increasing cost of building maintenance is weighing more heavily on the shoulders of bodies corporate.

Strata managers are finding themselves sandwiched in the middle as residents contemplate how they will fix problems ranging from the recently publicised issues of concrete cancer to other less reported problems such as disintegrating pipes, rusting balustrades and even rising damp and mould. Yet when it comes to car parks, particularly rooftop car parks, the maintenance issues can be extremely serious and often slip down the priority list.

Apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s are seen to be most in need of serious upkeep, and as bodies corporate get mired with maintenance issues, public safety and liability is of increasing concern.

A recent case study highlights the issues facing Strata Management in Sydney, who were tasked with reviewing a residential rooftop car park in Sydney. The balustrades had rusted through and were deemed a serious safety hazard by today’s standards. Originally built in 1972, the five-storey complex in Greenwich on Sydney’s lower north shore is a good example of how older residential buildings, built to outdated standards, are starting to deteriorate due to age – and compromising public safety.

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Safety mesh and barrier surround at a residential complex in Greenwich

The challenge with rooftop car parks is to ensure the barrier solutions installed are not only compliant with Australian Standard AS/NZS1170.1, but are also aesthetically pleasing. For the Greenwich apartment building, it was important that the solution did not detract from the rooftop façade. In this instance, a tight on/off driveway ramp needed additional crash rails, balustrades and specially designed hob mount posts.

The existing access ramp did not comply with any building code requirements. It was also very narrow with no way to install a balustrade or vehicle barrier without restricting vehicle access. This necessitated the design of a custom barrier post which could be mounted onto the side of the ramp hob and which allowed the barrier to be mounted flush with the ramp to ensure it didn’t encroach on to the access way.

Further hazards needed to be addressed to alleviate the risk of falls, for instance a child or car running over the edge of the building. This was addressed by replacing the inadequate balustrading with anti-climb mesh around the entire car park rooftop, finished with metal handrails. Wheel stops in each parking bay were also fixed into place.

Being a waterside rooftop location, safety barriers were designed to withstand harsh rooftop weather conditions to reduce corrosion and minimise future maintenance costs. The concealed fixing addressed the issue of minimum breach of the galvanising which means that the corrosion resistance of the system was preserved. Given the location, this promises to increase the lifespan of the metal work. The solution has also given owners and tenants living below the car park added reassurance that the space is safe and secure.

carpark safety 2

In real terms, the overall upgrades were a smart capitalisation of existing infrastructure and saved the body corporate from having to dismantle the on/off ramp and build a substantial and costly upgrade. With the new barriers and safety upgrades complete, residents who use the rooftop parking area have reported that they feel much safer and the strata management can rest assured that the building is also now fully compliant.

Property managers are responsible for keeping building common areas, including car parks, safe and properly maintained.  There have been a number of serious car park accidents in recent years, many due in part to aging car park structures. Anyone responsible for car park building upgrades should assess the space for defects and maintenance issues, particularly older residential complexes built prior to 1989.