Factsheet: Building and renovating disputes

Summary

This factsheet contains information about:

  • what to do if you have a dispute over building or renovating
  • making an application to VCAT
  • mediation
  • powers of VCAT

This information relates to laws in Victoria, Australia.

Building and renovating is a complex task that usually involves various professionals with different responsibilities. Unfortunately, the process doesn't always run as smoothly as it should. This factsheet explains what to do if you have a dispute over building or renovating in Victoria.

Avoiding disputes

To avoid disputes:

  • Be actively involved in your project, without interfering.
  • Get independent advice where necessary, and always seek a second opinion from a qualified professional.
  • Stay informed, ask questions and make sure you have good communications with your builder.
  • If things go wrong, do not escalate disputes, and be prepared to compromise.

To resolve disputes:

  • Talk to the builder. Try to sort it out.
  • If that fails, refer your complaint to Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)
  • If conciliation fails, the Building and Property List of VCAT can hear disputes about domestic building works:

Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) also offers a free conciliation service for owners and builders to help resolve domestic (residential) building disputes. In most cases, a party can only apply to VCAT once a Certificate of Conciliation has been issued by DBDRV. You can check the VCAT website to see if you fit into one of the exceptions to this rule.

DBDRV replaced Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV) from 26 April 2017. If you went through the BACV process, Consumer Affairs Victoria can provide you with a letter which will enable you to apply to VCAT without a Certificate of Conciliation from DBDRV.

The Building and Property List of VCAT can hear and decide any domestic building dispute, including home warranty insurance claims. There is no limit on the value of the claim.

To get help:

Justice Connect’s Domestic Building Legal Service (DBLS) provides advice and assistance to eligible home owners whose domestic building disputes were not resolved at DBDRV. It can assist home owners who do not have access to legal help and advice from other sources. See how to apply for help from DBLS under 'Contacts and further information' below.

To make an application to VCAT:

  • complete an application form available from the VCAT website
  • pay the application fee (based on the value of your claim)
  • provide at least three copies of the application (one for you, one for VCAT and one for the other party).

In some cases, you cannot be represented by a lawyer at VCAT. You can have a lawyer if the other party is allowed to have one or if they are a lawyer themselves. Otherwise you may need VCAT’s permission for a lawyer to appear with you.

Mediation

The VCAT Registrar may first send your case to mediation to help resolve the dispute. A mediator who is qualified and independent conducts the mediation.

Outcomes:

  • If mediation is successful, the mediator notifies VCAT.
  • If mediation is unsuccessful in smaller claims ($10,000 or less) the hearing may go ahead immediately.
  • If mediation is unsuccessful in larger cases (more than $10,000), a directions hearing is usually held immediately.
  • At a directions hearing, a VCAT member will set out steps the parties must take before VCAT hears the case.

Compulsory conferences

VCAT or the principal Registrar may say you need to go to one or more compulsory conferences before VCAT hears the case.

The aim is to:

  • work out what the legal issues are
  • get clear about the details and what the facts are
  • encourage settlement
  • tell the parties how the case will be managed.

Powers of the tribunal

VCAT can make any order it thinks is fair, including:

  • ordering payment of money, including money owing, damages or restitution (to make good)
  • changing the terms of a domestic building contract
  • declaring that a term is binding, or declaring that it is void, or varying a contract to avoid injustice
  • ordering the refund of money paid
  • ordering rectification of defective building work or completion of incomplete work.

VCAT can also:

  • award costs (under the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 section 109)
  • refer legal questions to the Trial Division of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal (under section 148)
  • give the parties the right to have a lawyer representing them.

You may also find it helpful to read the factsheet called ‘Building and Renovating’. It includes information about variations to contract price, delays and extensions of time, home warranty insurance, other insurance, completion and ending a contract.

Contacts and further information

Australian Institute of Building Surveyors

Web: www.aibs.com.au/

Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV)

Web: vba.vic.gov.au/disputes-and-resolutions

Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)

Web: https://www.dbdrv.vic.gov.au/

Domestic Building Legal Service (DBLS)

Accepts enquiries from Victorian homeowners, and referrals from other legal services and caseworkers.

How to apply for help:

By phone: 1800 727 550 (9am-5pm Monday to Friday)

By email: DomesticBuilding@justiceconnect.org.au

Web: https://www.justiceconnect.org.au/our-programs/domestic-building-legal-service/get-help

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)

Advice on disputes arising from domestic building and renovations.
Walk in centre:
Victorian Consumer & Business Centre
113 Exhibition Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Web: www.consumer.vic.gov.au
Tel: 1300 557 559

Victorian Building Authority

Web: www.vba.vic.gov.au/
Owner-builders: 1300 815 127

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

55 King Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Web: www.vcat.vic.gov.au
Building and Property List
Tel: 9628 9999
www.vcat.vic.gov.au/case-types/building-and-construction

Acknowledgments

Victoria Law Foundation acknowledges the assistance of Daniel Oldham, Solicitor.

This page was last updated on March 13, 2018

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