Why Do Soil Report Writers and Consultants Not Have to Be Registered? 8

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Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
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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.

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8
  1. Branko Mladichek

    Full marks for raising awareness of important issues.
    It is correct that property inspectors performing pre purchase inspections are currently not regulated and many don't have PPI or appropriate qualifications. Essentially it means anyone can do it.
    I agree with Mark that all property inspectors should be registered and insured but those waiting for the government to protect them will grow old waiting.
    After all registration has not stopped many shonky builders from ruining peoples lives. So it is better to do your own diligence now.
    Before choosing inspector ask whether there is PPI. If they are substantial company performing building and timber pest inspections it is likely that they will be insured, most likely with Rapid Solutions (specialised broker). If so this will give two levels of protection. Firstly and obviously insurance cover if something of substance is missed and secondly a base level of expertise. Insurer will do their own vetting of qualifications before granting PPI cover. Then ask about professional qualifications, experience, equipment (do they have thermal imaging) and references.
    Many do not advertise qualifications on their web (because they have none of substance). One inspector was flashing diploma of business, how is that relevant to house inspection?
    It is very important that you ask for and read pre inspection agreement. Inspections are seldom perfect and there will be exclusions, limitations and disclaimers. AS inspection standards (AS4349.1&4349.3) require pre inspection agreement so that purchaser is informed beforehand what is inspected and what isn't.

  2. Josh

    Pre-purchased inspection reports do not require registration as they are purely an opinion and do not have any weight behind them.

    Essentially, a pre-purchased inspection report can be conducted by literally anybody who wants to write one. Pre-purchase inspectors often miss items on their reports and often incorrectly identify non-issues, or minor cosmetic issues as 'structural defects' without any responsibility to back up or justify their claims.

    if you as an owner are dead-set on requesting an independent inspection report of your home, the only way you can be sure that your inspector at least has an idea of what they are talking about is to get an inspection from a registered inspector (with an IN-L or IN-U registration) or a registered surveyor (BS-L or BS-U rego).

    However you should keep in mind that even if your consultant is registered, pre-purchase inspections remain purely an opinion. The same advice also applies to pest inspections.

    • Josh

      (I should clarify, that advice in my last post was Victoria specific)

    • Branko Mladichek

      Josh, I think your advice os overly simplistic. Professional advice always creates liability for negligence.
      Production of pre-purchase report generates inspector's liability to the purchaser if something substantial has been missed, hence the need for PI cover. If there is no Pi cover then the owner could be whistling Dixie if the inspector has no assets to cover liability.
      Building surveyors are administrators of building control and building inspectors are their foot soldiers on the ground. They have highly specialised but narrow band of expertise. They will have excellent knowledge of building act and regulations and assessment skills for compliance and just enough building knowledge to do the job but it is likely that you will need much more. What about non-conformance with the contract, building inspector won't necessarily be skilled in building contract administration. What about knowing how to fix building problems. It takes a good builder to build a good house but a master to fix a ruined one. How is building inspector or building surveyor who probably never built anything going to tell you how to fix? Would not a property inspector who has seen thousands of homes of various ages and states of dilapidation give you a better advice than a building inspector only knowing new construction? What about experience with hotspots of building disputes to help the owner avoid one?

  3. Lenny

    Mark, good article. We have been screaming for years for more regulation of trades which will ultimately lift the Industry back to where it once was giving more and real CUSTOMER PROTECTION. It seems that the Government is led by the Insurance Companies who penalise us with premiums whilst giving flip-flop useless Consumer protection policies. Until the Governments of the day listen to those at the coal-face there will be no change. We have found that the relative Ministers are afraid to do what is required because their advisors use cost as an arguement and if they raise costs through regulation the public will not vote for them at the next election. I would seriously love to see a Minister in any Government go through the heart-ache that many have and are enduring and then weigh-up the advise from their advisors.
    Yes Minister, Yes……!!!!

  4. Anne Paten

    Mark, thank you. As always, your knowledge, specialist expertise and lengthy experience have allowed you to demonstrate more of the extremely flawed 'system' – and with plenty of supporting evidence. As you pointed out, soil testers are a huge problem. In our case, we had a P site, but it was not so designated. So if we start at the beginning, an obvious place to start, the house was doomed from the outset. An engineer later informed me that our site was, is and will always be a P site – this established FACT, easily checked from his computer and me informed in a minute – all down the phone. Yes, all is known well before the 'soil test' is carried out – but the wrong site type was articulated as 'fact', when it was known to be a false ‘story’ – cited as a soil test Report!
    As for the so-called 'Building Consultants', we had three involved in our disastrous project. None had any qualifications, no 'registration' as anything in business or in building! Our two were very costly – in every sense of the word. As for the builder's Consultant, he informed us that he was permanently employed by this builder to "get him out of trouble": consequently you can just imagine his 'Report'. In the industry, they are aptly termed 'hired guns'!
    Your comments on the VBA, aka BC, aka BCC – are one, same organization its raison d'etre always to control consumers and protect all in the building business. Hence, it matters not whether the soil testers or consultants are registered – regardless of registration all can do as they please, and they do! Likewise, the 'insurance', be it BWI or PI, both are rarely accessible. And once again this is 'Government approved'! As for FACTS, in building the truth is irrelevant – most sadly even at VCAT!

  5. Anne Paten

    Lenny, you are correct re us screaming for 'regulation' and the useless 'CON-SUMER PROTECTION' policies – all spin, lies and nonsense – totally false, misrepresentation and dastardly deceitful . First, 'regulation' assumes 'enforcement', but in Victoria there is zero enforcement. Thus any 'regulations', laws, codes, 'Standards' are in reality non-existent! This a façade to cover the cruel actuality. For decades, there has been no will to 'regulate' in the literal sense of the word – that is to CONTROL – and currently this remains the case. The new 'legislation', craftily packaged as a 'Consumer Protection' Amendment continues the deliberate misleading of the public and it is but another consumer CON – in a very long line of cons! In fact, con-sumers will be far worse off under the 'new' regime. The point to note here is the WHO of those involved in the 'new' VBA, the 'new' CAV, the 'new' DBDRV, the 'new' VCAT, etc. Nothing NEW about those involved – same old INDUSTRY PROTECTORS – just look at their backgrounds. As for 'corporate governance', another 'big fat NON-EXISTENT' invention. And there is no accountability for the crooks or their official protectors.
    Reflecting on the 'responsible' Ministers, they ignore all correspondence from everyone, be they individuals or the one and only consumer organization in Victoria and Australia. Not even a letter with their name, much less a signature. Sadly, they are actors, paid puppets who allow the BIZ-BUREAU partners to direct all the consumer traffic – to one disastrous destination – horrendous life-changing and life-threatening damage. As for the insurance companies, they are part of the DIRECTORS of BIZ group and donators to the major parties. And utterly untouchable!

  6. Macman2

    My father was building a beach house at Dromana and soil tests showed it was acceptable. When the builders started digging, they found water just under the surface.

    It turned out the soil tests had just missed an old stream – Which was shown on the Melways street directory!!

    At the time we believed Council should accept some of the blame but of course they did not and my father had to sink treated pine telephone poles deep into the ground. At great expense. A nonsense, as they don't last forever in a constantly wet location.