Even though their reports are often vital to major decisions made by structural engineers, builders and home owners regarding new dwellings, soil report writers are for some reason not required to be insured or registered as building practitioners.

Does this mean they do not come under the mantle of the VBA, the top building authority in Victoria? If so, why hasn’t this been changed?

Could it be that the Victorian Government made this mistake when building surveyors, certifying building inspectors, builders, architects, structural engineers and architectural draftspersons were all required (suddenly in 1993), to register (and acquire professional indemnity insurance) with the Building Practitioners Board?

Was it because soil report writers and building consultants have never been required to join an association?

How simple it would have been to make these changes at that time? But in their lack of wisdom, the Victorian Government – and all other state governments – saw such roles as unimportant. After all, they just give opinions.

So now we have soil engineers, who make possibly the most important decision on so many building projects, not insured and not registered, with no regulatory penalties for their not-too-infrequent gross mistakes.

When soil report writers make really bad mistakes (as has apparently occurred at least 4,000 times in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne), they could not be de-registered or fined because they were not registered.

The involvement of the proportionate liabilities criteria contained in Part IVA of the Wrongs Act 1958 might also play a part in why we don’t hear of such people being sued.

Instead, the builders are sued because soil report writers are invariably employed by the builders, who demand that the reports be carried out for something like $700 and not the $2,000 that might be more appropriate for sites in Melbourne’s far western suburbs volcanic loam soils.

By demanding cheaper reports, the builders unknowingly caused soil report writers to ignore the abnormal conditions in deep loam soils, and Appendix D of AS Code 2870 was (wrongly) bypassed. The result? Far less demanding soil classification and thousands of grossly distorted slabs.

And still they are not required to become registered. The Victorian Government could perhaps explain why.

This 23-year-old fiasco seems unfair in the extreme, and yet it was not part of the tranche of building reforms promised recently by the Victorian Government. Will it remain unchanged? We will have to wait and see.

There is another similar gross lack in regulatory controls – one concerning building consultants, where their liabilities can also be very large, particularly when they do not find the defects in the homes they inspect prior to buyers purchasing their homes, units and apartments.

Building consultants, along with soil engineers, were referred to as opinion report writers by the original Building Control Commission, which in the early 2000s became the Building Commission, which in about 2013 became the Victorian Building Authority. In all three cases, it was basically the same organisation, but reorganised a little each time; and incorporating the original Plumbing Commission and Building Practitioners Board along the way.

So that’s perfectly clear I hope, as is the difference between building consultants (often incorrectly called ‘building inspectors’ with their own incorrectly named heading in the yellow pages) and certifier building inspectors (unfortunately not commonly called that but also instead called building inspectors).

Building consultants are also not required to be registered or carry professional indemnity insurance for their report writing despite the fact they inspect the houses that will be the largest outlay of their clients’ lives. This has always staggered me, because I have seen well over $100,000 worth of defects missed by several building consultants.

If building consultants miss more than one of the following big ticket items, which I have noted as issues in houses, you can see why it is so important that these people are required to be registered. There are many more examples than those in the following list:

  • Insulation missing from the roof space apart from just two batts
  • Two collar ties severed by the installers for ease of access to install a gas ducted heater and an air conditioner and left that way
  • No insulation in the walls of a completely re-clad and re-plastered house.
  • A dozen roof trusses in a row leaning excessively (several houses)
  • Ceiling hanging beams loaded with tiled roof under-purlin props and ridge plate props with 40-millimetre bow in ceiling, just waiting to collapse
  • Roof tile battens fixed at each end only (this was discovered in two houses)
  • Pad footings under verandah posts 200 millimetres by 200 millimetres, only 200 millimetres deep and shaped like inverted pyramids
  • No sewerage treatment plant and slimy open trench at front of a property downhill from a stormwater (sullage) drain outlet
  • Over 600 roofing screws missing from an owner-builder 137B report-approved completed colorbond corrugated roof
  • A re-clad roof with several 75 to 100-millimetre dips in it.
  • A tiled roof laid (over double the load) on a roof designed for corrugated colorbond
  • A tiled roof girder truss spanning over 12 metres with no studs directly under it. The supervisor could not see what was wrong with it even when he was shown the other end with three kiln dried hardwood studs under it. This had been passed by the certifying building inspector
  • Steel bearers embedded in and flush with the top edges of unseasoned hardwood floor joists cut around and sitting on the bottom flanges
  • A two-year-old gable tiled roof with double 22-millimetre ocean waves on each side for the full length of the house
  • Footings 700 millimetres deep as per the original plans (but not the minimum required 2,250 millimetres as per overrule by the wise building surveyor in red pen on the official sets of drawings) because the builder misplaced the red pen overrule drawings and ran off a copy of the unaltered originals from the draftsman’s computer for the excavator and the concreter
  • Two houses with un-drained soil embankments between 1,500 and 1,650 millimetres high left just 100 millimetres away from unclad timber stud walls with mouldy plasterboard on the other side of the walls. The latter had already been eaten by termites where the embankment had partially collapsed.
  • Rotting four-year-old particleboard floor under large ceramic tiles balcony with 2.5-metre drop below
  • One of over a dozen (occupied houses) with ceramic tiled decks on just 4.5-millimetre Hardiflex as flooring on timber floor joists 450 millimetres apart and with 2.4 metres drop to the decks below.

These were discovered in just a 21 house-sample of houses and additions projects that 21 different building consultants and 17 certifier building inspectors and four relevant building surveyors had already inspected and approved as sound and compliant with all regulations and standards. Two consultants missed over half a dozen of these items.

So hopefully the tranche of promised Victorian building industry reforms will cover these two gross lacks in our regulations, so that building consultants and soil engineers will become responsible for the part they play in the tragic events that will otherwise continue to create havoc for building consumers.