From building wars to Home Sweet Home: how to resolve a dispute with your builder
You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong – and that is certainly true of the construction industry. The most common building disputes between a home owner and builder involve defective workmanship or money – and sometimes it’s both. Regardless of the nature of the dispute, there is a path to resolution that, if followed successfully, won’t drain your patience or your wallet.
Communication is key
In any relationship, good communication is essential. When things start to sour, talking can be a salvation and help make it easier to deal with conflict. And it’s no different when the relationship between a home owner and their builder begins to deteriorate. Often, disputes can be easily resolved with open communication.
NSW Fair Trading also recommends putting your concerns in writing and setting a reasonable deadline for any outstanding issues to be rectified.
But if talking through your concerns fails and the builder doesn’t act on the written correspondence, it may be time for a new course of action.
When talks break down
NSW Fair Trading will intervene when your building dispute cannot be resolved. They will arrange a site inspection to discuss the specific complaints at the centre of the dispute and determine whether the builder is responsible for any alleged defects and, if so, issue a Rectification Order which directs the tradesperson to rectify or complete the work by a due date. If the work is not fixed by the given date, the tradesperson is in breach of the Home Building Act 1989.
If this happens, the matter can be escalated by lodging a complaint with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
What if mediation isn’t enough?
Sometimes intervention just isn’t enough to defuse the most complex disputes and the assistance of NCAT’s specialist tribunal services is needed to hear and determine the complaint.
Just as in any case before a court, you must prepare your evidence appropriately and that means retaining an expert – a qualified building consultant with the knowledge and experience who can provide objective, independent documented evidence.
This evidence is known as an Expert Witness Report: a written assessment of the defective work at the centre of the dispute and a Scott Schedule which summarises the cost estimate to resolve the defects.
Based on the evidence presented, NCAT will make an order. If a builder fails to comply with that order, they risk losing their licence.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best
Nobody wants to find themselves in court and litigation should always be the last option. There are some steps you can take to help circumvent disputes and the headache of having to defend your claim:
- Choose your builder wisely; ask for references and read reviews of their work
- Engage an independent inspector to arrange regular inspections at critical stages of your build to identify defects as they occur and before they are covered up as construction proceeds.
- At the very least, carry out a pre-handover inspection before you hand over that final payment.
SJN Building Consultants has more than 20 years’ experience in the construction industry so we know where to look and what to look for when assessing properties for defects. For our clients who opt for critical stage inspections because they recognise the value it adds to their investment, the good news is that intervention by NSW Fair Trading has rarely been required.
We are also experienced in providing independent and impartial expert advice before NCAT, having acted as an expert witness in numerous cases.