New building laws to clean up the industry

New building laws to clean up the industry
Tom Bacon

Last month, the Victorian Parliament introduced the Building Legislation Amendment Bill into the lower house, seeking to substantially amend the Building Act 1993 and the Architects Act 1991 by improving consumer protections for owners.

The Bill seeks to adopt a number of reforms already implemented in NSW, by establishing a State Building Surveyor as an overarching gatekeeper for new buildings in Victoria. To support this new position is the creation of a Building Monitor.

These professionals will play a role in looking into systemic issues plaguing the industry and will provide input and direction to the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to play an enforcement role, while the State Building Surveyor will be able to issue binding determinations relating to the technical interpretation of the Building Code and Plumbing Standards.

Another key component of these reforms is to adopt legislative change to amend the distribution of the cladding rectification levy, to provide financial or other support to owners who are not eligible to receive funding under the current program, which is administered by Cladding Safety Victoria (CSV).

The current legislation cannot authorise the cladding levy to be used to fund activities where full rectification solutions are not funded by the state.

The amendments will provide greater flexibility in how the cladding levy is used, including enabling the use of the levy to provide financial or other support to address buildings that CSV have determined will not be eligible to receive funding under the current program.

This is about giving greater discretion, obviously within the purposes of funding cladding rectification works or trying to fix the cladding issues, in allowing to do out-of-scope things that might not be eligible for full funding, as the funding at the moment only looks at high-risk buildings.

Relevantly for owners’ corporations (OC), there will also be a new requirement that a draft building manual be provided to the OC upon completion of the building. The manuals are intended to be a single repository of all relevant information relating to the design, construction, and ongoing maintenance of a building.

The building manual will address a significant hurdle for owners and OCs in accessing information about their building. By making information about the design, construction, and maintenance of a building more readily accessible, the building manual will aid not only owners and OCs but also other parties such as building practitioners and regulators in future.

In NSW, the Building Commissioner has developed a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense individual that will fearlessly champion the interests of apartment owners, and will use his legislative powers to issue court orders against recalcitrant builders and developers, and will cancel occupancy permits and de-register building licences when timeframes for rectification are not met.

In Victoria, this role for the State Building Surveyor has not been adopted, but I do hope that Victoria one day decides to give more power here. It is exactly what needs to occur in my view.

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