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Are failing retaining walls solely the responsibility of the homeowners?

The Redland City Council (Queensland) says retaining wall maintenance is the responsibility of the homeowner. What if a large percentage of the homeowners in an estate that is approaching 20 years old is having land movement issues? How many homeowners would it take to be on board to effect any kind of response from Council? Are we looking at a class action against the original developer for using timber which has a shorter life span? What is the best course of action, if any? TIA

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Perhaps a claim on your house insurance for any repairs needed, particularly if the retaining wall is a structural necessity.

As for the Class Action because of age of the Estate I think it would be difficult to make a case against a developer, it might be seen as a householder’s responsibility to ensure upkeep of essential structures just as it would be for things like plumbing, roofing, dividing fences. The Insurance cover through the Building & Construction Commission in Qld for example is for a period of “For defective work claims, structural defects are covered for six years six months from the date (whichever is the earlier) of payment of the premium, a contract is entered or work is commenced and you must lodge the claim within three months of noticing the defect”. You may find that as a group you might seek redress but finding a Law Group that will support your claim after this elapsed time (20 years) might be hard.

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Council has already stated it is not their responsibility. What do you expect them to do?

Question 1 is what kind of timber did the developer use? Sleepers or treated [something] or [?]

Question 2 is what kind of maintenance did the home owners perform over the 20 years, if any, and is it fully documented? If inspections were made over time and there was a problem did or why didn’t the inspector/surveyor call it out for remediation?

If you ring one of the contingency lawyers that litigates for a percent of an award, no payment by yourselves, will they take the case? If not it is a signal you don’t have a good case or it is a questionable case. Another firm might enthusiastically take your case but you will need to self fund it and hope you win and are awarded costs, and the firm may be happy to fight for your rights to your last dollar.

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Assuming the walls are within the boundary of a property, as @grahroll suggested your options may be limited.
https://www.qbcc.qld.gov.au/retaining-walls

If they are outside the property title, IE on council or public land, as @PhilT suggested it will likely require an informed legal opinion.

We’ve had similar concerns over retaining walls as part of a strata title in Brisbane. In our particular instance insurance cover is limited to public liability. We had discussions with both our insurers and the Reference to Qld Dept of Justice info pages. The outcome - it’s all our problem to maintain and remedy any defects, 35 years on from construction, original defects included.

Although your wall is older this link may be of some interest. It’s possible to search the resource for similar content.

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Thanks, guys. I expected this sort of response. I was just wanting to get a consensus as to whether there was any recourse. According to a neighbour, Suncorp, one of the best insurance companies, will not assist unless some “Act of God” or some other trauma caused damage to the retaining wall. The problem has been creeping up on us for years but this most recent deluge has exacerbated the problem for everyone in our estate. We just need to find the best solution to fix the problem without breaking the bank. Fortunately, our neighbours are good people and some of the work we can do ourselves.

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That’s correct. Something reaching its end of life isn’t an insurance claim.

Timber retaining wall would have a 20 year life and as they are visible at purchase, a buyer should be aware this is the case. If a timber retaining wall only lasted a few years, then you possibly could find an avenue for recourse against the builder of the retaining wall. Being 20 years and end of its useful life isn’t the responsibility of the builder of the wall. It has served its design life well and landowners would be responsible for its replacement as part of ongoing property maintenance.

Using a different scenario, it is like exterior paint peeling after 12-15 years. One can’t expect the painter to be responsible for the peeling paint…it falls into the ongoing maintenance of the property. Lifewise with timber fencing or landscaped gardens where plants die because they are old.

There are retaining wall options which have 30+ year design lives. They may cost more, but will give peace of mind and reduce long term costs if installed correctly.

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