The recent spate of ‘slab heave’ cases in Victoria have highlighted the need for a review of the domestic building industry, says lawyer Hayden Legro.
After representing a client who won a $290,000 slab heave claim against building company Metricon in April this year, currently on appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr Legro said he had become an advocate for other affected home owners.
“There is a real need for a comprehensive inquiry into the building process, as the current system of regulation is failing consumers.” Mr Legro said.
“The reality is, that for an increasing number of new home owners in Victoria, the biggest purchase in their life is compromised by deficiencies in the building process, particularly in cases involving deficiency in foundations.”
“The public interest demands a complete overhaul of a system that protects the interests of developers, large building companies and the smaller “cowboy” operations over those of the consumer.”
“Consumers are being held to ransom by successive governments not wanting to take action because of a fear of putting of developers and compromising the image that there are no impediments to development in this state.”
“Many people who have building issues, particularly slab issues, tell me they are unable to take legal action against their builder due to the upfront and ongoing costs. We are trying to take as many of these cases on as we can, but there are risks and the upfront costs in obtaining engineering and other expert reports is a challenge. We encourage consumers to seek legal advice however, as each case is different. The fact is, big building companies have deep pockets, but your average person building a home does not.”
“Every year, disaffected home owners, who number in the thousands, tell me they suffer considerable stress knowing their homes’ foundations are unstable or they have not been able to come to any satisfactory resolution with their builder over serious building defects. I’ve heard stories about people falling into depression, marriages breaking up and even suicide amongst affected consumers.”
Mr Legro said there were many issues that needed to be examined in order to properly protect the biggest financial commitment many consumers make.
- The practical training requirements for builders to attain registration
- A review of the Australian design standards & building codes relating to the engineering of slabs
- Ensuring engineering drawings form part of building contracts, allowing consumers to obtain independent legal advice before signing
- Inclusion of site specific slab design computations in building contracts
- Set up of a warranty scheme to be paid for by builders against defective or incompetent work (as recommended by the LIV)
- Set up of an independent inspection authority to ensure building surveyors complete building compliance inspections without fear or favour
- A review of the legal process to take complex claims and claims over a small claims limit out of VCAT and into the County Court to stop builders manipulating the system by taking advantage of the relaxed rules on pleadings and evidence in VCAT to lengthen hearing times and the cost of litigation to the disadvantage of the consumer
- Amendment of the Building Act limitation period for suing builders to exclude the 10 year period after the Certificate of Occupancy is issued