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Home building disaster reveals cracks in the system.

The Australian 7 July 2015

Simon King


It was supposed to be their dream house, instead Anne Paten and her husband were confronted by a “horrible disaster” and a bill of $200,000 for remedial work. But what added insult to injury was that, despite “ticking every box” to protect herself as a consumer, she was left with nowhere to the turn when the builder refused to fix the problems.

“I had a government registered builder. I had insurance, but no one told me I could never claim it because they have to die, go broke, or disappear,” she told The Australian.

“I had a solicitor check the contract.”

“The builder had an article in the paper saying they built to the point of perfection — it was a horrible disaster and thoroughly depressing.”

Staring at “shocking” workmanship throughout her Strathmore property — including brickwork, floorboards, plaster and a faulty air-conditioning unit — Ms Paten took her complaint to Consumer Affairs Victoria.

“They said: ‘The builder’s in charge of your build, he’s got control of your land so you have to do what he says’,” she said.

“Then we went to the Victorian Building Authority, the Building Practitioners Board, and then the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“But we realised we’d be there for five years, we’d already lost $80,000, so we walked away.” Ms Paten said the “system fails the consumer at every level”.

“It’s out of control and cowboys run it,” she said.

“It’s a lawless industry because if you don’t enforce the regulations then you haven’t got them.

“Consumers don’t exist — we’re not a stakeholder in the domestic building industry …there’s no organisation for building consumers.”

Not believing that she was alone in her battle, Ms Paten formed a consumer group, the latest manifestation of which is the Victorian Building Action Group.

She said the stress of people fighting court cases and facing huge bills just to repair their homes, or go homeless, pushed people to breaking point and even towards suicide.

Last month, Charles Rickard, the chairman of a committee set up by Engineers Australia to review the wording of certification and building standards in NSW, described the current rules as “goobledegook”, and the certificates that were issued under the 2005 Building Professionals Act as a joke with barely any accountability.

The Australian reported recently that the nation’s booming $500 billion strata industry has come under threat as tens of thousands of owners of high-rise apartments brace for the possibility of dealing with imported cheap, flammable cladding used to save money in construction.

According to the latest figures in the Consumer Affairs Victoria report, Consumer detriment in Victoria 2010-11, 38 per cent of building consumers suffered financial detriment. As the reporting has changed, by comparison in 2008, 16 per cent, or 206,000 building consumers suffered financial detriment to the sum of $1.6bn.

“And that’s every year. There’s been no disaster as big as this and it’s man-made,” Ms Paten said.

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