Last year, a number of key changes were enacted in Victoria in respect of the law and practice in the building and construction industry.

A further set of changes are now progressing through the parliamentary process currently in bill form. This means their resultant content could differ slightly from their content as started, but it is worth noting them for now in any event. They are important changes overall and ones which depending on your role in the industry could be critical for you.

First of all, as far as builder practitioner registration is concerned, a corporation (i.e. a company) will now in its own right be eligible to be registered as a ‘practitioner.’ The ‘fit and proper person’ test will still apply, modified accordingly to the fact that a corporation is a legally created ‘person.’ This means the registered individual associated with the company – as well as the company itself – will be subject to fairly rigorous personal and financial probity requirements before becoming registered and upon renewal of registration.

In a similar vein, but in respect of building surveyors, a building surveyor can register the guise of his or her company and that company will or may be the designated or ‘official’ surveyor for the job. Just as a company, being an artificial creation, needs human hands to do the work of a company, so a building surveying company requires an individual to still actually undertake the building surveyor work.

As a result of prior reforms, a building practitioner or architect has to ensure that there is a building permit in place prior to domestic works commencing. Now, the law will make it clearer that the person named on that building permit will be the person or entity responsible for compliance with all relevant building laws and regulations.

Due at least in part to the consumer protection focus of a large part of the reforms, the law is now going to be providing for some types of conduct engaged in by a practitioner to be serious criminal offences, and in some cases, imprisonment of up to five years can be the result.

Such cases are for conduct where the practitioner, which is natural, knew what they were doing was wrong or didn’t care if it was wrong. By way of example, the building practitioner knew that there was no building permit in place but proceeded with the works anyway, and/or the works done did not comply with relevant laws and or regulations. A court can also make orders stopping threatened or continuing conduct which is in breach of the law as stated.

Importantly, there are multiple changes to the law with regard to building notices and orders. These are too numerous in fact to mention in their entirety, except to note that with regard to unit developments, it is the owners corporation itself which must do the necessary works required or arrange same, but the owners corporation (the newish term for ‘body corporate’) can recover the resultant cost from lot owners, usually in proportion to their lot entitlements.

Regarding the time by which a relevant prosecution must be brought, currently the law says that a prosecution must be brought within three years after the offence is committed. This is known as its ‘limitation period.’ The change in the law now is that a prosecution has to be brought within two years after the circumstances of, or the fact of the offence being committed being known to relevant authorities but in any event must be brought in the space of 10 years after the act constituting the offence was done.

There are other perhaps more miscellaneous changes on the way, and for more detail on them, further sources (such as VBA literature) and or professional advice should be sought. These further changes are in relation to information gathering powers, responsibility of local councils are arguably clarified, and some changes are being made in respect to building inspections.