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Home building projects in New South Wales are experiencing a boom and forecasts are for it to continue over the next five years, according to the NSW government. This upsurge in construction is good news for tradesmen; however, it could spell trouble for homeowners.
With the increased demand for skilled tradesmen, private homeowners could end up drawing the short straw when it comes to hiring experienced contractors. Historically, any time there has been significantly increased activity in the building industry, the talent pool of tradesmen has been thinned.
As a homeowner, it is always important to know your rights. When you hire a builder, you are entering into a contractual agreement. As such, you would expect workmanship of sound quality and standard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. So, when you are unsatisfied with the results of a building project, it’s worth knowing that you have the right to make a complaint.
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 servicer 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 (defects 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.
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, NCAT will not accept an application unless the dispute has already been addressed by NSW Fair trading.
NCAT 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 with NCAT, so make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules for making an application. You can download an application from the NCAT website, where you will also find a table of applicable fees.
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.
When a dispute is being addressed by either Fair Trading or NCAT, you will most probably require a building inspection / defects report that may well escalate into a professional witness report to support your claim. However, during complaint resolution, only specified items are dealt with in line with the complaint.