How to deal with building defects
Yippee! Your renovation or building project is finished and you are ready to start enjoying your new bi-fold doors/bathroom/open-plan kitchen and family room/insert dream project here! Hopefully everything went well and you and the builder are still on good terms (we enjoyed an Australia Day party at a customer-turned-friend’s place this year).
Time for some #realtalk. Building doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes, once the job’s finished there are some defects that need to be rectified. Yeah, that’s a bummer but hey, life isn’t all unicorn meat with sparkle gravy so let’s talk about the best way to deal with building defects and how to get them fixed.
Hopefully you did the right thing and let your builder use his trusted sub-contractors, rather than strong-arming him into using your mate from the surf club who’s a great plumber. If you have contracted a tradesman directly, then you are responsible for chasing him up for any defects and subsequent rectifications. If, however, all the trades were contracted by the builder, then it’s his responsibility to contact them and get them back to look at defects.
What is a defect? The strictest definition of a defect in a new building is where work does not comply with the Building Code of Australia. This includes things like electrical work that doesn’t comply with the code, cladding or other materials that has not been installed as per the manufacturer’s instructions or a wall has not been built correctly. It does not include instances where you change your mind about the paint colour you selected or you don’t like how the steps in the courtyard turned out even though they were built according to the drawings you had approved.
In most new builds, defects will also include things like paint that got scuffed by another tradesman, doors that have dropped, door handles coming loose, perhaps the toilet needs looking at. Different time periods apply for different defects but generally the builder has to be notified of any problems within 6-7 years of the build being completed. Issues that show up in that time period are generally structural or waterproofing.
Once the work is complete or you have moved back into the house, go around and inspect all work carefully. If you think there’s an issue, mark it with a post-it note or piece of tape. Invite your builder over and go through the list of defects. If he’s an honest tradesman, he will have an open discussion with you about the issues and agree to rectify them within a specified time period.
Do not ask another builder to fix the project builder’s defects. Most decent builders won’t agree to do it anyway and you will be stuck with the bill for any work undertaken. You need to give the project builder full opportunity to fix the problem rather than presenting him with a bill from another tradesman for work he did not authorise or approve.
If your builder does not agree to the defects or fails to undertake the work, you will need to take it to the next level – in NSW that’s the CTTT (Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal or look up the Department of Fair Trading). To take your claim here, you’ll need to have a signed contract with the builder and Home Owner’s Warranty if the job was more than $20,000. I’ll tell you straight up that this is no fun – you will need to prepare documents and the tribunal member (like a magistrate) will make a ruling deciding whether or not the builder needs to fix the problem. At this stage, the builder’s insurance company is not involved. You cannot claim for defects on the builder’s insurance unless you can prove one of three criteria.
These three things are death, disappearance or insolvency. That’s right. To get the insurance company to pay for defective building work, the project builder has to be either dead, or has disappeared (generally overseas) or has declared himself insolvent. If you have to go down the insurer route, you should probably get a lawyer – with construction experience (and I can’t stress that enough!) – on board, as the insurance company will definitely have their lawyers involved. And those guys can be hard-arses.
That’s the worst-case scenario and hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, it’s best to be prepared. Hopefully your building defects are nothing more than some scuffed paint and a sticky door. There’ll always be a couple of little things – builders aren’t perfect – but if they’re dealt with in a timely and respectful manner, resolving them shouldn’t be a big issue.
Have you had to deal with building defects? Did you builder resolve them well? If you had to disappear, where would you go?