Prevent injury to tenants and damage claims - Ceiling collapse warning signs: Real estate bulletin issue 152 (July 2017)

This publication is for: 
Property industry

July 2017

A ceiling collapse can cause serious injury to anyone present at the time of collapse and it can also cause extensive damage to a room’s contents and structure. Repairing a ceiling costs less than doing nothing and fixing the results when it fails, so timely action is important.

Between December 2014 and November 2015, Consumer Protection received 129 enquiries and seven complaints regarding the partial or complete collapse of a ceiling. 

The majority of these enquiries related to tenancies, so additional costs may be incurred if tenants have to be supported in alternative accommodation during the time it takes to repair the property damage.

Collapses may occur because of storm damage, water leaks, inappropriate use or access to roof space, inappropriate materials or poor workmanship. 

The Building Commission carried out an investigation after becoming aware of a number of unexplained ceiling collapses, particularly in homes constructed between 2005 and 2007.  The Building Commission found that a common occurrence at each home was the poor application of adhesive.

The amount and positioning of adhesive for fixing of gypsum plasterboard is well documented by manufacturers and forms a critical component of the ceiling sheeting fixing process. Any reduction in the amount or misplacement of the adhesive will affect the capacity of the sheeting to remain fixed to the ceiling framing.

Warning Signs 

The residents of the homes inspected had all noticed warning signs of the ceiling being under stress prior to the collapse. Unfortunately, these warning signs seemed minor to the residents and on their own they did not lead to a belief that there would be an imminent collapse.

While dwellings constructed between 2005 and 2007 may pose a higher risk due to the methods employed during this time, tenants, landlords and property managers should be aware of the signs of a potential ceiling collapse. 

Warning signs that a ceiling is under stress or failing may include:

  • a loud cracking sound in the ceiling;
  • a sagging or dropping of the plasterboard sheeting and/or the cornice; and
  • visual cracking and/or small circles or blisters (nail pops) on the ceiling, which are a sign the plasterboard sheeting may be pulling away from the nails or screws.

It may be a good business practice for the property manager to include a quick scan of the ceilings during property inspections to identify new sagging, cracking or blisters.

If the warning signs are present, action needs to be taken. The Building Commission’s Spontaneous Ceiling Collapse fact sheet includes checks homeowners can carry out or have carried out, advice on what to do if they find a warning sign and ceiling care tips.

Important news from the Building Commission: change to interconnected smoke alarm requirement 

The Building Commission advises that there is a change to the requirement for interconnected smoke alarms installed as part of new building work (such as an addition or alteration), to an existing dwelling. 

For more information read the bulletin 86 on the Building Commission website.

Consumer Protection
Last updated 26 Jul 2017

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