The recent tragedy in Tbilisi, which cost 4 people their lives, put the safety standards of buildings in the capital under the spotlight. For the first time in a while, the society is showing interest towards the subject of safety in residential buildings that are not in service, and who is responsible for safety in such buildings.
According to unofficial data, there are up to 600 apartment blocks in Tbilisi that have for various reasons not been given the clearance by the City Hall. However, many of these apartments are inhabited like those in any other building. Are these people being looked after, and who is responsible for ensuring their safety – the developer, the City Hall, or another authority? There is no clear answer to this question.
According to the architect Nikoloz Abashidze, it is necessary to immediately establish a committee to study the reasons why the aforementioned completed buildings have not been given clearance, and demand that development companies rectify any faults. Otherwise, the committee is to ensure that people are not allowed to live in these buildings. According to Mr. Abashidze, the current state policy is ineffective.
“If it takes years for a building to be given clearance and come into service, people who take up residence there in the meantime begin altering the properties, including doors and windows, making it more difficult for the authorities to accept the building. On the other hand, people would have already payed for their apartments. It is also in the developer’s interest to satisfy clients as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the developer may end up facing liabilities. Therefore, both the City Hall and the relevant supervisors turn a blind eye to the fact that people are living in a building that is not yet deemed to be in service. Ordinarily, they should not be able to receive electricity, water and gas supplies – a building that is not in service should not be inhabited! All of the aforementioned elements and the acceptance process ought to be reviewed. Only after being certified by various relevant authorities, should the building receive clearance. Yet for some reason, the authorities are unable to act. There are between 500 and 600 such units in Tbilisi today, and all of them are multi-apartment blocks,” states Mr. Abashidze.
The Tbilisi City Hall claims that its role in the process is limited to issuing construction permits and then comparing the completed works with the planning projects. It does not even know for sure how many buildings are still awaiting clearance. According to the head of the Municipal Inspection Service Giorgi Bagrationi, certification of buildings has already begun, and once the process is completed, we will know exactly how many buildings are in service, and how many are not.
“The Architecture Service is issuing construction permits. If we find that there are violations in the way the project has been completed, then we will issue appropriate instructions, and once the issues have been rectified, we pass the building fit for operation. It is a very simple process. As for the utility services, we do not inspect them – there is a relevant supervisor who is responsible for that aspect,” states Mr. Bagrationi.
Since no single authority controls the overall quality of construction, responsibility for the safety of residents lies with the investor and the developer. According to the Director of Arsi Tornike Abuladze, companies have to report to several authorities once construction has been completed.
“For example, the orderly state of the elevators is checked not by the City Hall, but by the relevant service of the Ministry of the Economy. When building construction is completed, we report on the performed works to the City Hall and the Elevator Service separately. With regards to the utility networks, once again, we report separately to Kaztransgas, Telasi and GWP, respectively. For example, in case of the gas supply network, we have the choice to sub-contract the works to a licensed firm. However, the final report has to be submitted to Kaztransgas. We had a case where we sub-contracted the works to a different company, but Kaztransgas later identified certain discrepancies and refused to approve the works and supply gas until the issues in question were rectified by their own department. Consequently, large development firms choose to insure themselves against any possible future difficulties by entrusting both planning and the works themselves to Kaztransgas,” states Tornike Abuladze.
Due to the fact that the safety of the population depends more on the good faith of investors and developers than on any state regulations, the real estate hub Property Georgia has established the Council of Responsible Real Estate Investors. Company founder Lika Kardava believes that each service company must realise that human life and safety are always of paramount importance.
“Unfortunately, accidents happen, and there is no insurance against them. However, it is the case that negligence and irresponsible behaviour lead us to disastrous results. Implementing safety standards for buildings and their residents is an issue of vital importance, and every responsible company has a duty to enforce and monitor those standards. During the planning and construction processes, architects and engineers must prioritise timely prevention of fires or leaks of hazardous materials. At the same time, the fire evacuation system must be designed appropriately to ensure that people can leave the building safely and quickly,” states Lika Kardava.
The council’s main task will be to induce responsible investment in the construction and real estate sectors by taking care of the environment and encouraging corporate social responsibility.
“Property Georgia established the Council of Responsible Real Estate Investors to work precisely on such topical issues. Its main task will be to familiarise the sector with the latest and best construction standards, and to share the best practices and experience from foreign companies,” adds company director Kate Tabatadze.
The population of Tbilisi will have to continue living in an uncertain environment while it awaits the legal assessment of the recent tragic events. Those who are currently thinking of purchasing real estate will not only have to study the project itself, but also try to obtain information about the history and reputation of the respective development firm. As of today, only the private sector offers guarantees of construction safety.