Litigation in relation to waterproofing and building leaks is on the rise throughout Australia, exposing owners to massive costs in the form of both legal fees and water damage expenses.

One of the chief causes of leakage and water infiltration in Australian buildings is the poor design of balconies, which are a common feature of the country’s multi-storey domiciles or residential apartments.

Water frequently penetrates buildings via balconies, as balconies are too often built on precisely the same horizontal plane as the internal floors of apartments without any form of “outfall” for rainwater.

There are also currently no legal requirements for balconies to be certified as waterproof via thorough testing prior to the issuance of occupancy permits for properties.

Law firms such as Lovegrove Solicitors say this oversight has recently led to a sharp rise in claims and litigation in relation to water  leakage and related building damage.

According to Lovegrove corporate litigation expert Justin Cotton, water leakage can inflict onerous damage on properties, causing stalactites in basements and rotting carpets. It can also have a highly deleterious impact on the health of occupants themselves in the form of respiratory ailments caused by mould and mildew growths.

The water egress provisions of the Building Code of Australia have done little to reduce the problem of moisture penetration caused by poorly designed balconies.

While the Building Code’s clause concerning the drainage system for the disposal of surface water specifies only the desired outcomes – ensuring that surface water is conveyed to an appropriate outfall and the prevention of the entry of water into a building – it fails to specify what measures should be adopted in order to achieve these results.

According to Lovegrove water damage claims legal expert Stephen Smith, the code should focus more on these specific measures for preventing water penetration, as opposed to just vague performance objectives.

“There would be mileage in the code being amended to change the emphasis from pure performance to a more prescriptive tenor,” Smith said. “The latitude afforded in the current wording is not ideally suited to the vagaries of water penetration.”

Smith said this failure to recommend concrete measures for the prevention of water penetration has been the chief cause of a “leaky building syndrome” in the New Zealand property sector since the turn of the century, boding poorly for Australia given the affinities between the two countries’ respective building codes.

“Let us not forget BCA 1996 was modeled on the New Zealand Building Code,” he said.