New South Wales has experienced a housing boom continually for the past 5-10 years in different pockets. Block sizes are only getting smaller to accommodate more houses and families. These pockets will continue to open up further from Sydney’s CBD where land to be developed is still available.
While this is something that will benefit the construction industry, what does it mean for the potential homeowner? We have to be realistic when we say that there are good and potentially not so good builders out there. Some build homes based on numbers, meaning the more they build then there is a chance that they want quantity over quality. It also means for the builders who use contractors on their builds that the selection pool for trades will be less. More demand = less trades.
Before entering into a builder’s contract, you need to know your rights as a homeowner and understand the legal document you are signing. You would expect to receive workmanship of high quality that meets standards, but unfortunately in some cases it doesn’t always work out that way.
Although this may scare you and turn you away from building a new home, the benefits almost always outweigh the negatives. If for whatever reason you aren’t satisfied with your build, it is worth knowing that you have the right to make a complaint.
Prior to your build commencing you may want to put measures in place that will aim to give you peace of mind throughout your build. Consider having regular stage inspections done by an independent building inspector. This will allow any defects to be picked up prior to the next stage commencing and also allowing for resolutions to be made.
If your build has been completed and no inspections were conducted throughout that process, you still have options available should you require any assistance.
Approach Your Builder
Your first point of call should always be to approach your builder. Communicate openly and honestly with them and discuss your concerns. Give them the opportunity to rectify the issues and find a resolution that is acceptable.
If this is not an option or if there is a communication breakdown, there are other options available to you.
Seek advice from an independent building inspector. At Houspect they are able to provide you with a detailed Professional Expert Report outlining any defects that have not followed Building Code Standards. This expert report can be used for any claims with NCAT NSW or Fair Trading. If required, the Houspect expert who prepared your report can also attend your hearing. It’s important to note that all Houspect inspectors are licensed builders.
NSW Fair Trading
New South Wales Fair Trading has a number of provisions in place to help consumers and tradespeople resolve building disputes. When you lodge a complaint with Fair Trading a customer service officer will take on your case and act as a mediator.
The customer service officer’s main objective is to attempt to resolve the dispute in a reasonable way so that building work can continue with minimal disruption. In many cases, raising a complaint with NSW Fair Trading is enough to reach an amicable resolution. However, in some instances – such as complaints relating to defects or incomplete work – a building inspection (Expert Report) is required.
Consumers can find step-by-step instructions on the NSW Fair Trade website, detailing how to lodge a complaint and the various stages of the processes.
NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT)
In the minority of cases where NSW Fair Trading is unable to resolve a dispute, homeowners can turn to the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). However a NCAT application will not be accepted unless the dispute has already been addressed by NSW Fair trading.
NCAT NSW can deal with disputes over defective or incomplete work; however, the tribunal can also deal with disputes over building work that does not conform to the contractual agreement. So, even if there are no defects, you still have grounds to complain if the builder significantly strayed from your requirements without seeking approval.
There are specific time limits for lodging a complaint, so make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules for making an NCAT application. You can download an application from the NCAT website, where you will also find a table of applicable fees.
NSW Master Builders Association
Many tradespeople are part of organisations such as the NSW Master Builders Association. Although the MBA does not mediate in building disputes, their involvement will often compel contractors to address the issue and seek an amicable resolution.
Contractors who are found to have breached the MBA’s Code of Ethics and Fair Business Practice, may face disciplinary proceedings – which could result in loss of membership. You can find out if your builder is a member by calling the NSW MBA on (02) 8586 3517.
When you lodge a complaint with the NSW MBA, the contractor will receive details of the complaint, accompanied with a request to respond. The MBA, however, cannot assist with contractual or technical disputes.
Building Disputes and Building Inspections
When a dispute is being addressed by either Fair Trading or NCAT, you will most probably require a building inspection / Professional Expert Report to support your claim. However, during complaint resolution, only specified items are dealt with in line with the complaint.