Preliminary issues

 

Owner-builders require the consent of the Building Practitioners Board before seeking permits. Nearly all domestic building work requires a building permit under the Building Regulations. Unregistered builders should be avoided. Permits are issued by building surveyors, who will periodically inspect work and issue an occupancy certificate. Architects are useful for planning and for consulting on any quotes obtained.

legislation

Domestic building work in Victoria is governed by:

the Building Act 1993 (Vic) (“Building Act”);

the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 (Vic) (“ACL&FTA”); and

the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 (Vic) (“DBCA”).

The DBCA contains a number of consumer protection provisions that are outlined in this chapter. Consumer Affairs Victoria is responsible for administering the ACL&FTA and DBCA. The Victorian Building Authority administers the Building Act, oversees building legislation and regulates building practices in Victoria. For further details, seeWhere to get help”.

Domestic building consumer protection reform strategy

In May 2013, the Victorian Government released a strategy to reform the building industry. Key features of the reform strategy included improving the registration and licensing standards for building practitioners; increasing disciplinary measures against building practitioners; creating a new regulatory body – the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to replace the Building Commission – that provides consumers with a one-stop shop for domestic building consumer protection; and improving the mandatory domestic building warranty insurance product.

Relevant reforms are highlighted in this chapter, but consumers need to consult the VBA in respect to relevant start dates.

Domestic building work

Sections 5 and 6 of the DBCA describe the domestic building work covered by this legislation. The DBCA applies to the erection and construction of a home and the renovation, alteration, extension, improvement or repair of a home including associated work, such as but not limited to, landscaping, paving, driveways, fencing, garages, workshops, swimming pools or spas. It also applies to the demolition or removal of a home, or any work associated with the construction or erection of a building on land zoned residential and in respect of which a building permit is required under the Building Act.

“Home” is defined as any residential premises, but does not include a caravan, a rooming house, motel, residential club, nursing home, hospital or any residence that is not intended for permanent habitation.

The DBCA does not apply to farm buildings, buildings intended to be used only for business purposes, or to buildings intended to be used only to accommodate animals.

Builder vs owner–builder

An early decision is whether you will hire a registered builder or whether you will carry out the building works yourself as an owner–builder. This is an important decision as it influences the contractual and insurance arrangements for the work (seeBuilding contracts” and “Insurance”).

Regardless of whether the work is carried out by a registered builder or by you as an owner–builder, you need to obtain any necessary planning and/or building permits.

Owner–builders:

must obtain a certificate of consent from the Building Practitioners’ Board prior to obtaining a building permit for work valued over $16,000;

must, before obtaining a certificate of consent, demonstrate that they possess the required knowledge by completing an online assessment – a 100 per cent pass is required;

may only obtain one building permit for a single dwelling or associated work in any five-year period;

must reside in or intend to reside in the finished dwelling;

cannot build for profit (i.e. for rent or sale); and

must be the owner of the land on which the building work is to occur.

An owner–builder either carries out the work themself or hires trades people to do the work. Plumbers and electricians must be licensed or registered. Owner–builders should satisfy themselves of the licensing or registration of these trades people.

An owner–builder hiring separate trades is not required to enter into contracts that comply with the DBCA (these contracts are discussed in “Building contracts”). Therefore, an owner–builder has significantly less protection than someone who hires a registered builder. However, a written contract is necessary if a contractor or tradesperson is engaged for work costing more than $5,000. If the work is going to cost more than $16,000, then the contractor or tradesperson must supply home warranty insurance.

Consumers should be wary of unregistered builders prepared to assist consumers with owner–builder projects. There are normally good reasons why builders cannot gain registration. Unregistered builders or builders with limited registration should be avoided. Always check a builder’s registration and home warranty insurance.

An owner–builder is not required to insure the works against defects unless they sell their home within six-and-a-half years of the date of the occupancy permit (s 137B Building Act). A registered builder must produce evidence of home warranty insurance before commencing any work.

If in doubt, you should opt for a traditional arrangement and engage a registered builder under a written contract.

It is important when seeking quotes that consumers are clear and consistent in describing their building work. Obtain at least three quotes. Check examples of the builder’s work and request references.

The VBA can inspect owner–builder projects.

Registered building practitioners

The Building Act regulates the registration of building practitioners. To obtain registration, a building practitioner must hold an appropriate qualification, be of good character and present evidence to the Building Practitioners’ Board that they are covered by the requisite insurance (s 170 Building Act). Builders, demolishers, draftspersons, engineers, building inspectors, quantity surveyors and building surveyors are all required to be registered.

The Building Act only permits the registration of persons, not companies or businesses. Accordingly, regardless of how a company describes itself you should ensure that the person you are dealing with (i.e. the builder) is registered with the Building Practitioners’ Board.

If the building work is worth more than $5,000 your builder must be registered and a major domestic building contract (seeBuilding contracts”) is necessary. For work over $16,000 the builder must obtain home warranty insurance.

Building surveyors

Under the Building Act a building permit must be obtained for nearly all building work, being work for and in connection with the construction, alteration, demolition or removal of a building. Unless the work involves a single trade, such as tiling or plumbing, nearly all domestic building work requires a building permit. A builder or owner builder is responsible for supervising the construction works. Regulation 1801 of the Building Regulations 2006 (Vic) (“Building Regulations”) sets out what buildings and building work do not require a building permit. For example, garden sheds with a floor area of less than 10 square metres do not require a permit.

A building permit is required at the beginning of a project before any building work is carried out. An occupancy permit or certificate of final inspection is obtained at the end of a project when the work has been completed. New work cannot be occupied without an occupancy permit. Do not overlook this requirement in your eagerness to move into your new home.

Building permits, occupancy permits and certificates of final inspection are issued by building surveyors. Prior to the introduction of the Building Act building permits were issued by local councils. The Building Act allows this work to be carried out by private building surveyors. Certain councils continue to act as building surveyors, offering consumers a choice, but building work can be carried out without the involvement of local councils.

A building surveyor is responsible for checking the plans and designs to ensure they comply with the relevant building regulations. All building work must comply with the Building Act, Building Regulations and the Building Code of Australia. Building surveyors ensure that each building practitioner engaged in the building work is registered and covered by the required insurance and that the requirements of all relevant authorities and planning permits are addressed in the project.

Owners should get involved in the appointment of the building surveyor for the project rather than relying on the builder’s recommendation. Builders cannot appoint building surveyors for your project. Once appointed to a project, a building surveyor can only be removed by application to the Victorian Building Authority.

During construction, a building surveyor will carry out mandatory inspections of the work to ensure that work is being carried out in accordance with the approved drawings and relevant regulations. A building surveyor is not a supervisor of the building works. On a typical residential construction a building surveyor may attend site on only four or five occasions to carry out inspections. Building surveyors are required to act independently and consumers should consult with them if they have any questions about the state of the works.

At the completion of the building works a building surveyor will carry out a final inspection before issuing an occupancy permit or a certificate of final inspection. A certificate of final inspection is appropriate if the works only affect a part of a home. If a building permit requires an occupancy permit then no one must occupy the home until an occupancy permit has been issued by the building surveyor.

These permits and certificates are issued when the building is suitable for occupation. They do not relate to the quality of the building work, and they expressly state that they are not evidence that the work complies with relevant building legislation and regulations.

As discussed below, some building contracts tie completion and final payments to the issue of an occupancy permit. Be careful not to place too much importance on the occupancy permit, it is not a guarantee of quality. Be sure to have the workmanship assessed by an independent building consultant.

Always keep the building surveyor in the communication loop.

Architects

Some people may hire an architect to assist them with their building project. Architects are not required to be registered under the Building Act as they are governed by the Architects Act 1991 (Vic) (“Architects Act”). Architects are required to carry professional indemnity insurance.

Architects offer a range of services. A full architectural commission involves the architect in all stages of the project from designing, preparing drawings, obtaining planning permits (if necessary) and building permits, arranging contracts, selecting contractors, administering building contracts, and inspecting the work.

It is important to remember that while architects have greater involvement in the project than building surveyors, architects do not supervise building works. A building supervisor is required to be in attendance every day and to give directions to the builder. Nearly all building contracts require builders to supervise their own works. Architects will attend the site perhaps every fortnight, although more regular inspections will be undertaken if necessary.

An architect can be hired for specific services (e.g. design and documentation only). An architect’s fees are normally calculated as a percentage of the value of the proposed works. Consumers not familiar with building works and the building industry may wish to consult an architect before commencing any work.

It is always useful to consult an architect about any quote you receive for building works. An architect will assist you in determining whether the quote is adequate and realistic and reflects your intentions for the work.

Consumers should provide to their architect, builder and draftsperson all available information concerning their property. This includes information about title boundaries, easements, underground services, restrictive covenants and planning overlays. Keeping your professionals fully informed about your property will avoid embarrassment and additional costs.

If you are not retaining an architect for your project, you should consider engaging an experienced building consultant to carry out regular inspections of the work. Without some professional assistance you will not know whether the builder is providing the appropriate quality materials or level of workmanship.

Planning and building permits

These permits are separate and should not be confused. Not all building works require a planning permit, but nearly all works require a building permit.

Planning permits

Planning permits are issued by the Planning Department of your local council. The relevant planning scheme that applies to your property will set out whether the proposed work requires a planning permit. For example, most dual occupancy projects will require a planning permit.

The planning scheme is concerned with the type of development proposed, its size, its effect on the amenity of neighbouring properties, its suitability for the area and other considerations concerning the nature of the proposed works.

The planning permit process is not always straightforward. If neighbours object to the proposed works it may be difficult to secure a permit for your project.

A planning permit may impose conditions on the work and may require modifications to the proposed building design. It is important to ascertain whether a planning permit is required before commencing any building work. Consult your local council if you are not sure.

Building permits

Building permits are concerned with the structural and technical integrity of the proposed building and whether the work complies with all relevant legislation and regulations. Building permits ensure that your project produces a building that is safe, durable, energy efficient and healthy.

Building permits are issued by a building surveyor. You are required to appoint a building surveyor for the works. A building surveyor may be either a private practitioner or a local council. For assistance in selecting a building surveyor for your project contact the Building Practitioners’ Board (for contact details, seeWhere to get help”).

Bushfires Building Standard

In March 2009 the Victorian Government introduced a Building Standard that provides greater protection for new construction in bushfire prone areas. Under the previous standard, there were four levels of risk assessment. The standard now has six risk levels. The new technical approach allows a better assessment of the likely heat and flame exposure. The standard stipulates an appropriate construction method to improve a new building’s ability to withstand bushfires.

The Building Standard applies to all new construction, renovation or repairs to a home or outbuilding in Victoria, particularly in bushfire prone areas. The standard does not require owners to retrofit protection to existing homes.