35. 2003 – I beg you

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

In August 2003 the civil engineer Phillip Johnston wrote regarding 39 Glebe Point Road and at the request of that property’s owners, Messrs. Voukelatos, to the Council of the City of Sydney.

He described his several previous inspections of the property and the subsequent reports that he issued.

In his inspection in September 1990 he had observed two large poplar trees near the side (i.e. eastern) wall and cracking in that wall.

Johnston inspected the property again in June 2001, following an inspection by Ronney and Bye, consulting engineers, which stated that “the wall bows in and out for the full height, and it appears that it has rotated towards the east’, but the wall was ‘not in immediate danger of collapse”.

In that report Johnston reported that there was no danger of immediate collapse. The cracking was “slight”, the reported bowing and rotation were “illusory”, and any visible bend would have been deliberately built in during the original construction. There was no separation or relative movement between the eastern wall and the first floor and the roof frames.

In May and July 2002 Johnston inspected the property again and noted that the wall was the same as it was in 2001. However, he was concerned to see that the tenant Amir Bodenstein had “carried out un-authorized work in the building, including removing the internal wall linings”.

In March 2003 Johnston inspected the property once again and reported that further unauthorised work had been carried out since the previous year. That work was on the both the ground and the first floor. Among other things, plasterboard linings and a hallway wall had been removed. Soft mortar had been removed from the joints allowing outside cracks to be seen inside and sunlight to show through in several places.

He repeated that the wall was not about to collapse (the reasons being that there was no tilting, that the bend was deliberately built in, that wall still had lateral support, and that there was no separation of the wall from the frames). However, an unusual accident (e.g. impact from a heavy vehicle and from an earthquake) could cause a collapse.

Johnston commented on the proposed remedial works which had been proposed by Paul Bekker (i.e. “the wall be taken down and new footings installed on piers taken down to a suitable bearing material… the piers should be tied together with a concrete beam and the brickwork rebuilt into a defect-free vertical wall”). In his view those works would not be good practice (as the new wall would be on different foundations to the other walls, and the new wall would be difficult to bond to the old wall and the first floor and roof frames).

Johnston suggested Council should not issue an intended Order at a time when the owner, Voukelatos, was still engaging consultants to weigh up the options of renovation vs. redevelopment of the whole site.

In September 2003 Voukelatos ignored Bodenstein’s requests to return his building tools that were locked up inside the property.

In the same month the consulting engineer, Paul Bekker, issued a second report regarding 39 Glebe Point Road in which he reiterated his opinion that the side (i.e. eastern) wall was unsafe and needed to fixed immediately.

He wrote to Bodenstein that the wall was fragile and liable to collapse at any time. Although the tree had been removed, no attempt had been made to secure the wall. Cracks had removed any support the side wall had from cross walls. The floor was sloping dramatically.

In October 2003 Bodenstein met Voukelatos in person, the latter having recently returned from Greece. Bodenstein begged him to fix the property’s structural problems and to resolve their differences. The owner replied that there was nothing further to talk about and threatened to sue him for damages caused to the property.

1. Daylight shows through
2. No reply
3. Collapse could occur
4. I beg you

1. Daylight shows through

Mr Johnston states that an unusual accident could bring down part of the wall near the point of impact and seismic loading (earthquake) could cause a collapse of the whole wall.

07.08.03 Mr Voukelatos to Mr Johnston MF 1-4, 468-71

“Further to our telephone discussion today I’m faxing you correspondence from City of Sydney & Becker report relied on by other.

As stated we need to send a letter from you to Council on your thoughts about the safety of the wall.”

14.08.03 Mr Johnston to City of Sydney MG 1-3, 471-4

“I refer to your ‘Notice of Intention to Give an Order’ dated 31st July 2003, and the report by Paul Bekker Engineering Group Pty Ltd dated 30th October 2002. I have been asked by the Owners, Mr and Mrs Voukelatos, to make representation to Council regarding this matter.

Previous inspections and reports

I first inspected the building in September 1990, when work was carried out on the front wall of Nos 39 and 41, which together comprise the one building. There were two large poplar trees near the side wall of No 39 at the time, and cracking in the wall was noted. Copies of my reports dated 6th September and 6th October 1990 are enclosed.

I again inspected the building on 1st June 2001 following a report dated April 2000 by Ronney and Bye, Consulting Engineers, which stated that ‘the wall bows in and out for the full height, and it appears that it has rotated towards the east’, but the wall was ‘not in immediate danger of collapse.’ I concluded that the cracking, if it had been caused by foundation movement, would be regarded as slight damage under AS 2870 Appendix A, and that the ‘bowing’ and ‘rotation’ were illusory because there is a bend in the wall, built in at construction time, and there was no separation or relative movement between the wall and the first floor frame or the roof frame. Copies of my report dated 25th June 2001, the report by Ronney and Bye, and a surveyor’s Certificate dated 23/3/1983 are enclosed.

In 2002, I visited the site on 27th February, 24th May, and 19th July, at the request of a tenant. The wall was initially as it had been in June 2001, but the tenant carried out un-authorized work in the building, including removing the internal wall linings, and I declined to give him further advice. A copy of my letter dated 22nd July 2002 to Leichhardt Municipal.

My last visit to the site was on 7th March 2003 at the request of the Owners, to report on the current condition of the building. Further un-authorized work had been carried out since July 2002, including:

  • ground floor, main internal cross-wall, alteration to head door opening
  • first floor, front wall plasterboard lining removed, hallway wall removed, lining boards placed on top of ceiling joists in front rooms.

During the visit I was briefly shown the report by Paul Bekker Engineering Group Pty Ltd, with the words ‘danger of collapse’ underlined. The report, then over four months old, had not been passed on to the Owners or to Leichhardt Council.

Condition of side wall

At the inspection on 7th March 2003, the appearance of the outside was as in 2002 and 2001. The inside had been stripped of its lining plasterboards on battens over the original render, before 19th July 2002.

This also removed some of the relative soft mortar from the joints so they have a ‘raked’ appearance, the cracks visible on the outside are now revealed internally, and daylight shows through some of them. It is understandable that a consultant might now condemn the wall, and I would not advise that money be spent on re-lining or patching the wall. However, it does not follow that the wall is about to collapse. The wall was not tilting out of vertical, the slight bend in the wall was built in at the time of construction, the wall still had lateral support from the first floor and roof frames, and there were no indication that separation from the frames was occurring.

It is possible that an unusual accident, e.g. impact from a heavy vehicle, could bring down part of the wall near the point of impact. The wall is not close to the road except near the front corner. Seismic loading (earthquake) could cause a collapse of the whole wall. However, impact accidents and earthquakes would also have similar effects on many other buildings of similar age and construction.

It is now over twelve months since the internal linings were removed, and over nine months since the report by Bekker.

Comments on Proposed Remedial Works

The intended Order would require the work recommended by Bekker to be carried out, i.e. ‘‘the wall be taken down and new footings installed on piers taken down to a suitable bearing material. The piers should be tied together with a concrete beam and the brickwork rebuilt into a defect-free vertical wall`”.

Partial re-construction of the building in this manner would not be considered good practice. The new wall would be on different foundation material to the other walls in the building, and this would cause cracking at the wall joints in the future. It would be difficult to achieve a satisfactory bond of the new wall with other walls, and to existing first floor and roof frames. For the long term stability of the building as a whole, all of the walls should be of uniform construction and on similar foundation material.

Proposed Procedure

The Owners have engaged a building consultant to consider the renovation or re-development of the site, and intend to return to Sydney in October 2003 to pursue this matter. Council’s Town Planning Department has been approached to determine the relevant requirements.

It is proposed to leave the building unoccupied until the work has been carried out under normal Development Application and Construction Certificate procedures. Council is therefore requested not to give the intended Order so that the above procedure may be followed.”

2. No reply

On 13 September 2003, Mr. Voukelatos ignored my request to return my building tools (Ex. J 2, p 208). I requested Mr. Voukelatos’s lawyer to inform his client that I needed my working tools that were still locked in the building. On 16 September 2003, Mr. Voukelatos’s lawyer, Mr. Casimatis, replied that he had sent a copy of my request to his client (Ex. EJ 3, p 209). I did not receive any reply concerning this matter and my tools and belongings remained locked in the building.

3. Collapse could occur

Mr Bekker’s second report reiterates his opinion that the sidewall is unsafe and needed to be rectified immediately.

29.09.03 Mr Bekker to AB – CL 1-4, 131-4

“Re: External sidewall on eastern boundary

39 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

In October 2002 we inspected the property and provided you with a report on the condition of the building. In our report we stated that the side wall on the eastern boundary was in a fragile condition and liable to collapse. We recommended that repairs be carried out immediately to ensure the safety of the site. Refer attached letter report PBEG 30/10/2002.

We have recently returned to the site and to our dismay found that no repairs had been carried out on the building since earlier visit. The side boundary wall is still in its previous precarious state. Fortunately the tree affecting the footing of the side wall has been removed. However, no attempt has been made to secure the wall. We reiterate our earlier comment in our opinion the wall is unsafe and needs to be rectified immediately.

The terrace building is a series of two story single rooms one behind the other with a common wall to adjoining property on its western boundary. The external side wall on the eastern boundary was originally braced so that it would not collapse outward by the intermediate crosswalks between the rooms. The bricks of the intermediate crosswalks toothed into and restrained the long eastern boundary wall from collapse. The building is now very old and has cracks in every wall.

From the photos provided it can be seen that the eastern side wall has extensive rotation, bowing and cracking, the front wall has separated from the party wall, the first intermediate wall between the rooms has large cracks over the two doors opening and at the back the rear wall has also separated from the party wall.

These cracks effectively remove any support the side wall had from the intersecting cross wall. The floor is of timber joists spanning from the internal party wall to eastern boundary wall with the joists let into the walls. With the movement of the footings over the years the floor has moved and now slopes quiet dramatically. The floor can no longer be considered to provide lateral support to the eastern side boundary wall.

The deterioration of the building could be the result of a number of factors, which include the following:

  • Foundation movement due to the neutral wetting and drying of the foundation material.
  • The effect of the roots of the tree, which had been growing almost adjacent to the wall.
  • The type of construction used in the building, i.e. lime mortar, timber lintels over openings etc.
  • Lack of maintenance of the building structure.

As we believe the threat of a collapse of the eastern boundary wall is high. We recommend that the building should not be used in its present dangerous state and that repairs must be carried out immediately to stabilize the eastern wall.

Until this work is completed we believe it is essential to protect the safety of the public by erecting a barrier to provide an exclusion zone adjacent to the wall.

We reaffirm our statement that collapse could occur at any time and believe it would be foolhardy to assume that because the wall has been there a long time that it will stay as it has forever. This attitude is only wishful thinking.”

4. I beg you

In October 2003 I met Mr Voukelatos twice and this was the first time that I saw Mr Voukelatos since he left for Greece in January 2002. One meeting took place outside the premises after I waited for Mr Voukelatos more than 1.5 hours while he had a meeting with someone inside the building. In our discussion I said to Mr Voukelatos words to the effect of “now you can see with your own eyes and you know that there is a serious structural problem” and that “it is not a game” and that “I beg you, let’s resolve our story”. Mr Voukelatos said words to the effect of: “You will be better off if you will go on with your life. We have nothing to talk about”. I responded with words to the effect of: “Even if it would take me ten years I will not give up”. The second meeting with Mr Voukelatos took place in an Italian restaurant, where Mr Voukelatos was dining with another person at 43 Glebe Point Road. I said to Mr Voukelatos words to the effect of: “I will not give up and I will not disappear”. Mr Voukelatos said words to the effect of: “I will sue you for the damages you did” and that “you destroyed the shop”. I said words to the effect of: “I know about your wife” and he replied by saying: “I will finish you”.