It’s a common problem: property owners complaining about poor workmanship from tradespeople they have employed, resulting in costly legal battles, disruption, safety concerns and stress.

There are some simple solutions to help reduce these complaints:

All tradies should be licenced

Not all trades need to be licensed, which can certainly affect the quality of work. The solution here is to make all tradesmen licensed in their respective industry.

Clients need to shop around

Anyone engaging a tradesman should do their due diligence, ask for referrals and get at least three quotes to ensure that they are dealing with someone that has a proven record of delivering what’s promised.

Not having a contract in place

Always get a contract for all work done on a property and explain to the tradesman that if there is no contract, then there will be no payment. If there were a central source that all contracts for trades work were registered, in the event a contract goes into dispute, then fees should be charged to resolve the dispute 50/50 to each party, regardless who is at fault.

There are not enough government guidelines

Too many cowboys get away with shoddy work because there are insufficient government guidelines and regulations for all trades.

Tradesmen taking shortcuts

Tradesmen are taking shortcuts due to low rates of pay, yet the owners of large building companies gain most of the profits. In new construction, supervisors often run the construction process, and because they are not licensed or experience in a particular trade, for instance plumbing, they would be unaware if the plumber is taking shortcuts to save money. Likewise for property owners who rely on the tradie to do the right thing; they too can get caught out, so therefore document everything in writing and have both parties sign an agreement.

Tradesmen are supposed to be professionals, and when people are paying good money for a finished product, tradies owe it to them to put in an honest effort!

Lack of communication between the tradesman and the property owner

Clear communication is the key to a successful outcome when hiring a tradesperson. Both parties need to have an understanding of what is expected, even down to small details. Keep a notebook with and jot down all verbal conversations and document details in a signed contract.

The parties are not following the five elements of contract law

The Five Elements of Contract Law are:

  • Instruction
  • Offer
  • Valuable consideration
  • Acceptance
  • Acknowledgement

Not putting quotes and conversations in writing

Consumers should always request a detailed written quote from any tradesperson outlining exactly what is expected. Also, keep notes of conversations with tradespeople to refer back to should a dispute happen regarding a job.

Keeping a written log of the project can be used to offer evidence to support any claims of faulty workmanship.

Leaving unfinished work to start another job

This is a very common problem, and depending on the amount of work unfinished, could end up in a costly legal battle. For works under $10,000, Small Claims Court is the best solution.


Deceitfulness is ripe in the current market and in some case it comes from both parties, meaning the contractor is not truthful about when a project is to be completed and the homeowners are not truthful about where the funds are coming from.

  • You forgot one thing.
    The customer wanting the cheapest price and the tradesman needing the work.
    Hence work offered comensurate with price.

    • Stever,
      Nothing forgotten here, if you believe in yourself and your service them competitive price does not come into play

  • All that sounds fine but you forgot to mention that most problems can be avoided by proper documentation setting out exactly what's required, followed up by regular site inspections by qualified architects and consultants. Dare I say it, but that sounds like a traditional building contract administered by an Architect.

    • Again nothing forgotten here, training and ongoing education will fix that issue mate, its just that some inspectors think they don't need training. Howard

  • Whilst it is true that many people have horror stories with regard to tradespeople, no doubt the vast majority of those who work in trades conduct their business properly and do the right thing by their customers.

    In any fragmented industry, there are going to be a few bad apples. Nevertheless, we should not allow a few cowboys to damage the reputation of an industry which no doubt on the whole serves its clientele properly and well.

  • What about the licensed cowboys? There are far too many of them and they are wolves in sheep's clothing with the Building Practitioners Board seal of approval. In Victoria, You need only look at the Building Practitioners Board's disciplinary register for a list of countless dodgy registered building practitioners:
    Of course, these are just a few of those who are actually brought to account, countless others are let off scot free by our failed building regulator. No one should be fooled by a building practitioner with a registration. It means nothing.
    With regards to contracts, I highly recommend that no one signs a HIA contract, which is designed to protect the builder's interests not consumers.

    • Agree with everything you have said Dr Harrison. You have obviously been down the same CONstruction journey as we have. I just wanted to reinforce your recommendation re not utilising a HIA contract and if you have done so, don't waste your time contacting their customer care division. They are not interested in the delivery or conduct of their members, irrespective of damning documented or visual evidence!

    • This will never be sorted as offshoot departments developed by state governments are not implementing structure to regulate construction industry sectors, Howard Ryan

  • It's not just cowboys. A recent pathway in my constituency was about 200 metres long with a real trip hazard every 20 metres. Sure it was the standard of work but who accepted that standard and therefore made that the standard. The local government had all the standards, processes, specifications etc in place and yet someone threw down a dreadful pathway and the council accepted it. Where does that leave the expectation?

    • Ian, the other issues are very few inspectors know let alone read the Australian Standards and some standards don't give a full understanding of what is actually required. Howard Ryan

  • While the issue of poor performance of trades is a regular occurrence adding to the problem is the fact that many designers fail to fully consider "constructibility" of their designs. The photo accompanying the article illustrates this perfectly. The detailing is poor and incompatible with the materials specified, the tradesman was set up for failure. An inherent arrogance exists with the design professions where the lowly tradesman is to blame. Most of the trades I have worked with want to have pride in their work, they are battered down over time by constantly being blamed when they could not make a silk purse out of sow's ear.

    • Doung, this is an ongoing issue between designers and builders and tradies. No one bothers to produce an appropriate details prior to tender nor prior to the proposed works delivery. Howard Ryan

  • Checking registration, contracts, documenting all verbal communications and NOT asking for the cheapest quote all mean nothing when trades and builders know they are untouchable! Our revolting experience is a prime example and unfortunately not an exceptional case.
    Even if you spend years pursuing justice, pay for costly legal advice, sacrifice your health and family's financial security, when/if they feel pressure, they liquidate and walk away from all liability. The insurers and regulators refuse to withdraw their ongoing support of players they know are dishonest and inept and the government ignores one damning enquiry and report after another. Why? $$$$$$?

  • Nothing like tradies to provoke a comment. I agree with everything mentioned and the replies.
    One aspect I've found is that final payment can be interpreted by tradies as confirmation of "job well done."
    In some cases there has been dissatisfaction with the workmanship, and rather than "get him back to fix it", the client accepts there has been poor contractor selection and is willing to pay extra to get some else to fix it. The angst of dealing with the original tradie outweighs the additional cost.The problem with this approach, while understandable, is that the original tradesman believes all is good, and the benchmark is established.

    • Gaven, Once again I stress, Contract Law will eliminate this mistaken belief. A builder is only entitled to his final payment once the works are completed AS INTENDED, not because he feels he is entitled to it.

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