When choosing a building surveyor..

The process of choosing a building surveyor has been made easier by new consumer protection laws. Over the past few months, much attention has been focused on legislation that directs building activity – who can do it, how they can do it and what restrictions should be in place to help enhance protection of consumer interests.

A Victorian Auditor-General report last year indicated that almost one third (28%) of people in the course of their building or renovating projects have experienced problems, and that a high percentage of those incidents involved poor workmanship. The report also found some private building surveyors faced a conflict between performing their role assessing the compliance of building practitioners, while also relying on those building practitioners for work. This is linked to the fact that until recently, legislation allowed builders, as well as consumers, to select a building surveyor for their projects.

Understandably, many consumers preferred to leave that decision to their builder. But though they represented a minority, there were some builders who took advantage of that leeway in legislation to work with surveyors on whom they could count to approve their work, sometimes regardless of its level of adherence to building standards.

At best, this practice is unfair to the consumer; at worst, it’s a recipe for legal and safety nightmares. It also became evident that many consumers had little idea about what role the building surveyor played in the building process. It was concerning that such an integral player had a low profile in the eyes of many consumers.

To help remedy this, the Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015 became law in April. As of September 1, builders can no longer appoint building surveyors directly. This means a builder may not act as the owner’s agent in the appointment of a private building surveyor. The owner must now formally appoint the building surveyor in writing; however, the builder will still be able to make a recommendation to the owner for a building surveyor. The building contract may still allow the builder to obtain the building permit on behalf of the owner. The change does not affect any appointment that was accepted before September 1 or any domestic building contract entered into before September 1 that authorises the appointment by a builder of a private building surveyor. Transitional arrangements will be made so that contracts entered into before September 1 will not be affected.

Among the Auditor-General report’s recommendations was for Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Building Authority to review their customer education and awareness activities. This means ensuring that consumers have access to straightforward, clear and timely information about the building process and its players – in particular, information in plain English about what role the building surveyor plays.

So, how can consumers be made more aware of the important role of building surveyors? As part of the legislation changes, Consumer Affairs Victoria developed the Domestic Building Consumer Guide, which is a mandatory contract information statement for consumers. This guide provides clear information about how to appoint a building surveyor, and explains their role. In addition, the guide also covers: How to appoint a builder; The role of the builder; The role of the consumer; Tips and traps of the building process; and What to do if things go wrong. The builder must provide a copy of the guide to the consumer before signing a major domestic building contract.

For a copy of the guide, please contact Master Builders directly or visit the Consumer Affairs Victoria website. Master Builders’ building surveyors and network of building inspectors provide timely permit services for domestic building around the state. To arrange an inspection, call 9411 5555.

Radley de Silva is the CEO of the Master Builders Association of Victoria. 

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