Victoria Building Industry Lifting Standards

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Windows which barely open, no soundproofing, leaky ceilings and balconies – the list of flaws we see in new buildings around Victoria could fill several articles.

These types of problems are common in the daily construction of residential apartments, townhouses and houses. And it is the landlords and people living in the resulting shoddy housing that suffer.

Poorly built homes are the unfortunate result of a regulatory system focused on minimum standards that fails to protect end users and leaves buyers vulnerable.

It is a system that undermines quality by having designs guided by minimum standards and little or no quality control during the construction phase.

Indeed, despite what many industry players may claim, regulatory compliance is not the same as quality compliance, or even (in many cases) the same as good practice.

But most of us would like our homes not only to meet the minimum requirements, but also to be “high quality”.

For many of us, buying a new home is a once-in-a-lifetime investment. We should expect it to be well-built and trouble-free for at least the next ten years. We should also feel protected by a legal system that works and helps us. This is simply not the case.

The Victorian government, however, now has the opportunity to change the system and provide better protection for people buying new homes.

The Government of Victoria’s Building Reform Expert Group is looking at the legislative framework for the industry at a general level and the process of implementing the new National Building Code in Victoria. It is essential that they include quality and conformity assessment in this process.

Currently, “quality assessment” often defaults to a “beware of the buyer” approach, with new owners expected to spot problems when they move in. But buyers are often ill-equipped to judge the quality of their new building beyond its superficial exterior. coat of paint, carpet and accessories. This is acknowledged in the government’s own Building Regulations Impact Statement.

And yet, it remains the responsibility of the buyer to list the “defects” of his house after moving in. If he does not see or cannot see a defect, it will not be corrected.

Even when defects are reported, the power imbalance between homebuyers and developers can make it difficult to identify and properly address any issues, especially for apartment owners.

In theory, these defects should be only superficial, because the structure of a building is appreciated throughout its construction. But, currently, registered building inspectors only need to attend the site four times during construction and are not always available as work progresses.

Therefore, even if a structural step is checked off as “compliant”, it does not necessarily mean that it has been carried out according to satisfactory standards.

This is because we have reached a stage in Victoria where buildings that meet minimum regulatory standards may still fall below the standards expected by the community.

How did we get here ?

Part of the problem is that subcontractors, like plumbers or electricians, sign their own work. Often this is done without considering the building as a whole. This means that we end up with situations where, for example, the kitchen pipes are located outside on the main facade of the building, rather than inside according to the design.

This remains technically “compliant” as the final approval comes from the plumber, not the design team.

Pipes entering from the exterior are potential sources of water leakage and fire penetration, and can impair the building’s ability to retain heat or cooling. This can result in poorly designed and poorly installed facade solutions that do not seal effectively. They also just look bad.

While the builder’s representative and a builder’s surveyor oversee this process, the number of poor quality results in new buildings suggests that this monitoring is not working at all sites.

For the whole building, the Registered Building Surveyor (RBS) is responsible for certifying that the construction complies with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and other relevant Australian standards.

However, recent evidence suggests that investigators are insufficiently trained or experienced, work under pressure, receive low fees and are insufficiently audited.

As a result, building inspections have often become a largely “checked-out” affair, with inspectors being insufficiently knowledgeable and uninformed of design details.

Even when sub-contractors provide perfect service and the surveyor performs a meticulous and thorough mandatory inspection, their roles are still limited to meeting the minimum requirements of the Building Act, Building Regulations, National Building Codes construction and/or building permit.

And, in practice, this leads them to inspect only a narrow band of the quality spectrum, “ensuring that the main structural, safety and amenity issues are met”.

Although ‘quality’ can be subjective, it is reasonable to expect a building to perform over time, be flexible to changing demands and retain its aesthetic appeal. But the realities of tight margins and a workforce of subcontractors who prefer to quote on standardized construction solutions (otherwise known as “deemed satisfactory” solutions) mean no one is focused on quality. actual building.

And it’s all perfectly legal. These “minimum” standards are all the legislation requires.

Separating compliance and quality

While there are steps buyers can take to protect themselves, ultimately legislative changes are needed to ensure everyone is better protected.

We made a series of recommendations in our submission to the Victorian Inquiry into Apartment Design Standards at the end of last year. One of our recommendations was that construction companies should put in place a system to protect consumers.

Another solution would be to put the responsibility for regulatory compliance back on the manufacturer. After all, the builder doesn’t build anything (that is, the sub-contractors, such as concrete workers, carpenters and plumbers), but manages the trades and suppliers, while being responsible for safety.

This solution is not straightforward, as many home builders are small, family-owned businesses with limited ability to take on new compliance roles. But if we could find a reasonable way for builders to monitor and document building compliance (ideally as a condition of maintaining their license), then building surveyors would be free to consult on overall quality.

This would transform the role of the investigator into a quality assurance role, far from its current role (which is more akin to that of a compliance officer).

Compliance simply means that the design and works comply with codes and regulations, while quality assurance includes all other design requirements to achieve the quality levels expected by owners.

A change like this would mirror the UK, where the regulatory system distinguishes between responsibilities for building compliance and quality assurance. It would also honor the original intent of building regulations, which was to ensure the safety and well-being of occupants.

Unfortunately, quality assurance in the Victorian building industry was replaced by minimal regulatory compliance. Sometimes even these minimum standards are not met, and when they are, they often fall short of community expectations.

The Building Reform Expert Panel has the rare opportunity to offer recommendations to raise these standards across the industry in Victoria. This would protect hundreds of thousands of home buyers both now and in the future.

This article first appeared on Pursuit. Read the original article.

Story Producers: Catriona May and Andrew Trounson

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