Factsheet: Building and renovating disputes
This factsheet contains information about:
- what to do if you have a dispute over building or renovating
- making an application to VCAT
- 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.
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 the Building Advice and Conciliation Service Victoria and/or Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)
- If conciliation fails, the Domestic Building List of VCAT can hear disputes about domestic building works.
Consumer Affairs Victoria works closely with the Victorian Building Authority to provide a joint service known as Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV). The BACV helps to resolve approximately 2,000 domestic building disputes each year. See ‘Contacts and further information’ below.
Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria also offers a free conciliation process for owners and/or builders. A party can only apply to VCAT once a Certificate of Conciliation has been issued.
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 make an application to VCAT:
- download an application form from the VCAT website or apply online
- pay the fee (based on the value of the claim)
- provide three extra copies of the application to be sent to all the other parties.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV)
Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)
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
Tel: 1300 557 559
Victorian Building Authority
Owner-builders: 1300 815 127
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
55 King Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Building and Property List
Tel: 9628 9999
Victoria Law Foundation acknowledges the assistance of Daniel Oldham, Solicitor.