Consumers in Victoria have launched an unprecedented action against the state’s building regulator, whom they accuse of failing to protect home owners from poor building work, media reports.

The Age has reported that 36 victims of a poorly constructed townhouse development in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburb of Diamond Creek are launching legal action over a saga involving dozens of townhouses in the Rangeview Estate, whereby residents have experienced problems such as mould, inadequate fire separation, defects in roofing and cladding and general poor workmanship.

According to the report, owners Erin and Dave Robertson purchased a property within the estate in 2010 but were informed by neighbours only a few days after that they had purchased a lemon.

The couple later discovered that the slab had been built at lower than ground level, leading to water running underneath the house and causing floor skirting to swell up, discolour and grow mould.

A building consultant who assessed the properties also discovered that it did not have adequate fire separation, meaning that it could prematurely collapse during a blaze.

The class action accuses the regulator of being aware about deficiencies which were capable of causing serious injury or death in the event of a fire but being too slow to act.

One owner, Steve Balfour, said he complained to the VBA about the fire threat in August 2013 and an inspection was later conducted but that the regulator took almost two years to act and did so only after he informed them of his intention to contact the local council.

This action is the latest development in what has been a tumultuous life for the regulator, which was bought in in 2013 to replace the former Building Commission.

In 2015, a  report by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) report which examined the performance of the VBA along with the Building Practitioner’s Board, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority found that deficiencies in the VBA’s oversight of building surveyors along with a lack of coordination of monitoring and compliance activity across agencies meant that there was little in the way of assurance that domestic building construction complies with minimum standards.

VAGO did note, however, that the VBA had begun to address some of the recommendations contained in an earlier VAGO report into the former Building Commission in 2011.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Building Authority said the regulator was unable to comment directly on the issues raised in the Rangeview case as the matter was now before the courts and will be determined by a court, but said that the regulator wss confident it had carried out its statutory responsibilities appropriately and properly.

As the regulator administering the Building Act and associated regulations in Victoria, the VBA has responsibility for the registration and where appropriate, the investigation and discipline of building practitioners, or prosecution of those who have breached the Act.

The municipal councils, building surveyors and the VBA all have duties to discharge within Victoria’s regulatory framework.

The VBA maintains that in this matter we have carried out our statutory responsibilities. This included investigating the conduct of the builder, which subsequently led to the cancellation of his registration in 2016. The VBA also issued a direction to the relevant building surveyor to carry out his functions in accordance with the Building Act and, when this failed, initiated multiple investigations into his conduct which have resulted in him being referred to the VBA’s Practitioner Disciplinary Unit.

  • Excellent news. The VBA has go away with it for too long, it should have been overhauled after the Peter Brilliant issues. Please let us know when the hearing is.

    • Please be aware that the VBA will give out all personal details of complainants to the RBPs – see VCAT Harrison v VBA.

  • The state & federal governments policy of industry self regulation is endangering people's lives and allowing fraudulent & low skilled contractors to flourish in the building industry – no one checks the installation certificates that builders provide to the authorities – until a politician's family is affected by this – nothing will change

  • If it was at all possible we should have a senate committee investigation into the VBA and its relationship with the Insurers. Saying this the Andrews Government would be too gutless to do so because it is not a case of where the corruption starts but where WILL it stop. Prue Digby is a Public Servant charged with a duty she obviously is not able to deliver. Her henchmen, all ex-coppers and worksafe investigators with no practical qualifications, knowledge, or experience other than chasing down soft targets need to be sacked. Lets hope that the Judiciary carry out their duties, do their job, and not be "got at" by Government influence. The lives that have been destroyed by incompetence in this Authority is horrifying at least. Will Minister Wynne now sit up and listen to the truth, will Premiere Andrews even give a damn. We can only wait and see.

    • Is it now time for Prue Digby to step down claiming mental health issues instead of standing up and accepting responsibility for not having a clue what she was doing. Shame on any Government appointing and promoting incompetence especially when so many lives are at stake. As was said above, self regulation is the root cause as too public servants NOT DOING THEIR JOBS.

  • What is the point of a regulator when it doesn't regulate?

    I came to Victoria in 1985 and quickly came to the realisation it is the "Bureaucratic State", where there is an enormous amount of legislation, a large part of which is ineffectual. Instead of giving adequate legislative teeth and funding, all that is created is another way for legal vultures to make even more money. This is just another example of half-baked laws that is typical of Victoria, where the public sector is heavily politicised to the detriment of everyone. Even the police force is politicised and indulges in areas that are none of its business. As much as I enjoy living here, the state is a political and legal shambles.

    Ordinary people should be able to buy property knowing they have the protection of law, and without this decision destroying their lives.

  • I just found this on the VBA website;

    A disclaimer to effectively deny any and all responsibility by the VBA for the information on its website> it seems the organisation wants to take responsibility for nothing it regulates.

    "The content of this website is provided for information purposes only. The Victorian Building Authority makes no warranties whatsoever about the accuracy, reliability or authenticity of any information or material contained in this website, and accepts no liability whatsoever for direct or consequential loss or damage to any person in connection with the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website or incorporated into this site by reference. Information is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site and any linked site do so at their own risk and undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of any and all content.

    You must view this website in full screen format. No liability is accepted for any information or services which may appear in any other format.

    No responsibility is taken by the Victorian Building Authority for any information or services which may appear on any linked website, nor does it endorse any company, organisation or product referenced in, or linked to, this website."

    Sack them all, including the board, and employ competent people.

  • Excellent news, if the regulator won't act, act on the regulator. Needs to occur in NSW as well. A lack of proper regulation contributes to building defects, without question.

  • It would be nice to know what the insurer (VMIA) did in this matter… if the builder actually became insolvent before the insurer's pathetic cover periods expired.

  • I hope they win – the inquiry into collision between our regulators and insurers should be a priority . This collusion goes to the use of illegal Phoenix activity to protect the insurance scam. The devastating impact on people's lives doesn't matter.
    The class action should be followed by one regarding the licensing of those builders who Phoenix – how were they licensed?

  • Is Premier Andrews condoning the CORRUPTION of the VBA and the Insurance companies by staying silent. Is Dan Andrews cooking up another Fire-Fighters Union type solution for the VBA.

    Rome burnt whilst Dan Andrews fiddled.

  • Well reported Andrew. This has happened because the building consumers (home owners) are so incensed by the lack of prompt punitive action by the VBA, that they are prepared to spend an enormous amount of their hard-earned, in order to right several massive wrongs perpetrated by our watch-dog of the Victorian Residential Building Industry… aided and abetted by successive Victorian governments… because the legislation is grossly unfair, particularly the VMIA insurance based on the agreed policy designed by Royal Sun alliance together with the HIA.

    This policy was supposed to protect builders, but in fact it hurts builders almost as much as it hurts the new home owners of so many defect-riddled homes. Recent conciliation reforms will simply coerce more and more worn out home owners to leave the defects in their homes to cause havoc later on. What a shambles… and after successive governments supposedly attempted to clean up the industry.

  • Murray Smith:
    “we should have a Senate Inquiry into VBA activities”.
    Yes, because people are compelled to attend, but such Inquiries often wither on the vine.
    “Judiciary carry out their duties, do their job, and not be "got at" by Government influence.”
    “Self regulation is the root cause as too many public servants NOT DOING THEIR JOBS”.
    Spot on. The public can surely sense collusion and corruption.

    Frank Collins:
    “Sack the lot of them (the VBA)”.
    Correct, but for balance, both sides of politics are guilty. No government anywhere across Australia will tackle this subject – because where does it end? Vested commercial interests always influence building regulations. Try the fraud of House Energy Ratings. There is no independent umpire to question how regulations are framed, and if the cross-referenced Standards are actually in the public interest and demonstrate NET BENEFIT, because often they do not. The apparatus of regulations and Standards is an impenetrable fortress, and every wall breach is plugged.

    Licensed Electrician:
    “fraudulent & low skilled contractors, no one checks certificates….until a politician’s family is affected”.

    Les Williams:
    “Collusion between our regulators and insurers should be a priority”.
    Well said. Example: Why don’t Insurers demand that houses be electrically compliant to the Wiring Rules AS/NZS3000? Have they been told to shut up? Is it because of the damaging findings of the 2010 Royal Commission – Home Insulation Program, where gross breaches of the Wiring Rules in roof spaces were found to exist, for decades? And made worse because of non-policing by all state electrical safety offices (ESOs). It’s incredible, isn’t it?

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