The Elara apartment owners have called on the Barr government to provide compensation for construction defects in their complex, arguing its failures has left them "on the brink of financial ruin".
The desperate plea comes after the Master Builders Association this week said government inaction had left Canberra with a "legacy" of defect-ridden buildings, which it would have to "find a way" to rectify.
The Elara owners have struggled through almost seven years of legal battles and builder disputes over defects at their 118-unit complex in Bruce, which have an estimated repair cost of $19.4 million.
Cracking to the building's facade, water leaks and damaged balconies are among some of the defects.
In the saga's latest chapter, the owners' lawyer, Chris Kerin, has written to Chief Minister Andrew Barr seeking either financial compensation or a loan agreement to help them fund repair costs.
Mr Kerin has also asked the ACT revenue commissioner Kim Salisbury to waive or defer the owners' rates bills for at least the next 10 years.
In both letters, obtained by The Canberra Times, Mr Kerin argues that the ACT government, which regulates the building industry according to a framework which it established, is responsible for the "considerable loss" suffered by the owners.
Mr Kerin's letter points to four specific failures.
He said after defects were identified at the Thynne Street development in 2012, the government failed to "enforce' a rectification order issued to the builder, Ivan Bulum's B & T Constructions Pty Ltd.
It failed to issue further rectification orders, Mr Kerin claims, or "encourage" Mr Bulum - the company's director - to fix the defects.
That came despite senior ACT bureaucrats telling the owners that it would "vigorously pursue" Mr Bulum to rectify the flaws, or, failing that, seek to hire a contractor to complete the repairs.
In the letters, Mr Kerin claimed that the scheme the government established in 2002 to protect owners against failed builders - the Master Builders Fidelity Fund - was inadequate, due to the difficulty in securing a payout.
The plea comes as the owners await their claim compensation to the fund to be heard by a full bench of the federal court. The court knocked back the owners' first claim in February, ruling their application for compensation had been made after their eligibility criteria had lapsed.
Mr Kerin said if that appeal was unsuccessful, each owner might have to pay more than $100,000 to help fix the defects.
In making the case for rates to be waived, he said some of the owners were "on the brink of financial ruin", meaning they would struggle to fund rectification works, let alone pay rates.
He said the company insuring the complex would not cover the Elara owners beyond December 2019 unless "significant" repair work had been completed.
The owners would likely be forced to sell - if they could find anybody willing to buy.
"The situation at Elara Apartments continues to worsen," Mr Kerin's letter read.
"There are still considerable concerns as to the safety of the property due to structural defects and extensive mould.
"Due to the conduct of the ACT government and the subsequent lack of consumer protections available to the owners corporation, we believe the government has a responsibility to step in and assist."
The Canberra Times sought responses from the offices of Mr Barr, Mr Salisbury and Minister for Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay to Mr Kerin's request for compensation and rate relief, as well as to his assertion that the government was to blame for the owners' predicament.
In response, Mr Barr's spokeswoman said the government was considering details of Mr Kerin's request for compensation, "including whether the ACT Government has played a role in the matters raised by the owners".
The Canberra Times also sought comment from Mr Bulum.
In a statement, a spokesman for the family's development company, Bulum Group, said B & T Constructions had struck a deal with the owners in February 2017 to fix a range of defects at the building - on the condition that it did not admit liability.
The spokesman said the builder was prepared to complete the work at its own cost.
But a dispute between the parties "as to the methodology to be engaged" led to a "breakdown in the relationship", which "affected ongoing viability" of the company.
B & T Constructions was placed in liquidation in July 2017. Unable to make a claim against the collapsed company, the owners were forced to seek compensation through the fidelity fund scheme.
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