The rectification costs incurred by the owners of units in Melbourne's Lacrosse apartment complex which caught fire last year highlight the perils of installing subpar imported building products.

Residents of an apartment building in Melbourne which caught fire due to the installation of illegal exterior cladding are being forced to foot the bill for replacement of the subpar product.

A blaze broke out in the Lacrosse apartment complex in Melbourne’s Docklands district in November last year, after a discarded cigarette butt caused the building’s exterior cladding to catch fire.

The fire spread from the sixth floor to the building’s uppermost 21st floor, causing the evacuation of more than 500 occupants and damage in excess of $2 million.

The Victorian Building Authority subsequently concluded that the use of Alucobest cladding material, which failed to comply with combustibility requirements, played an instrumental role in the spread of the blaze.

In addition to the building damage and subsequent drop in property values caused by last year’s blaze, the tribulations of Lacrosse apartment owners are now being further compounded by the government’s decision to make them pay for replacement of the subpar cladding.

While Melbourne City Council had originally greenlighted use of the Alucobest cladding, an imported product manufactured in China, it has now ordered that residents pay for replacement of the defective product in order to ensure compliance with building standards.

The replacement cost is estimated to be $20 million in total, or approximately $40,000 per unit in the apartment complex.

Figures in Victoria’s strata industry such as Stephen Raff have pointed to the imminent perils posed by the widespread use of subpar imported construction products by building firms, which include glass panels and electrical wiring in addition to exterior cladding.

Dr. Weng Poh, Associate Director and Principal Fire Engineer at Umow Lai and National President of the Society of Fire Safety, Engineers Australia, also notes that the vertical spread of building blazes is likely to become an issue of mounting concern for fire engineers in Australia, particularly given the increased construction of high-rise apartments in the country’s major cities as part of efforts to lift urban density.