When you or someone you know receives a building notice or building order, they must be treated with the utmost sense of urgency and care.

For those completely ‘in the know’ as to these beasts, a building notice can be issued when ‘show cause’ is requested (usually in writing) to be shown from an owner as to why something should or should not do something in response to the issues raised in the notice. A specified time is given in the notice for that response to be given. Broadly speaking, an owner has two options. One, show cause as to why what has been requested to be done doesn’t have to be done. Two, bring the works into compliance, when, after consideration of the whole circumstances, that is the option the owner considers best overall.

In a sense, there is a hierarchy for these documents in the sense that a building notice sits lower, or ‘comes first’ in the process, then a building order comes next, and finally, there is an emergency order.

If a building notice isn’t dealt with in a timely manner, or isn’t dealt with at all in the sense of no response is given, the matter can be escalated to a building order.

Building notices can be issued for things such as no permit being held for the relevant works, the works not being done in accordance with the building permit held, to address health and safety issues on site, or where works were or are commenced before a permit was issued.

In all such cases, a private building surveyor should be consulted as early as possible in the process. The municipal building surveyor (MBS), who has a crucial role in the process, should be contacted early as well. In fact, such contact can be crucial. It can often be the key critical thing to engage early, in some detail and at length with the MBS.

The MBS usually has the approach that the key thing they look for happens; that is, that the building works are brought up to standard, and are brought into compliance with laws, regulations and standards rather than having someone ‘punished’ for doing the purportedly wrong thing.

Having said that, a possible consequence of building notices and orders not being dealt with appropriately can be an order that building works get demolished. Prosecution in the Magistrates Court can ensue, with potentially heavy penalties being imposed and the ‘miscreant’ can be made to pay in addition, some or all of council’s legal and or court costs incurred.

A building order, the second step in the process as described, is an order issued out of council directing the building owner to undertake certain works, so that applicable standards, laws and regulations are satisfied. These orders can be directed to not only the owner but also the relevant builder if the MBS believes the builder is carrying on the relevant building works.

A key thing to be aware of is that a building order becomes final and must be complied with, unless and until an appeal is lodged with the appropriate body in the particular state, including Victoria.

An emergency order is the most serious of these types of notifications. They are issued only in the more extreme cases where the MBS believes there is a serious or imminent risk to the health and safety of the occupants and or occupants of surrounding properties and where there is a serious and or imminent risk to property. They are issued where the situation, as can be seen from the circumstances just described, is more urgent and where a show cause period of time of say 30 days is not appropriate due to those circumstances.

As always, as the area is fraught with technicalities, professional advice from someone with real specialised knowledge in the area can be and often is, crucial. Along the way, engagement of experts such as engineers, architects, and building consultants can be of critical importance, particularly as to the ‘technical intricacies’ of what needs or ought to be done with the works themselves. Nearly always, the earlier such engagement occurs, the better.