Slater & Gordon is calling for an overhaul of Victoria’s building industry, starting with an independent taskforce to investigate why homes around Melbourne are cracking up and ending with better protections for new home owners.
The firm has made several recommendations in a 17-page submission sent to the Department of Treasury and Finance as part of a departmental review of Victorian consumer protection frameworks.
Slater & Gordon commercial litigation lawyer Robert Auricchio said the submission came after the firm received enquiries from more than 100 Victorians whose homes have developed major structural cracks due to the phenomenon known as slab heave.
The common thread between the aggrieved homeowners was that their houses were built on waffle raft slabs. Waffle slabs are constructed by pouring concrete over polystyrene void formers to achieve a waffle form without undertaking footing excavation or digging trenches.
Another link is that the houses were built on reactive soil that expands following high rainfall events, causing foundations to crack and leaving many of them uninhabitable. Reactive soil is commonly found in new housing estates, particularly in Melbourne’s west.
Mr Auricchio said builders were not being held to account for poor construction work or the inappropriate use of waffle slabs. He said the lack of accountability was leaving Victorians who had defective homes, with no other options but to seek recourse through litigation.
“We’re seeing builders abrogating their responsibilities to repair the homes and instead blaming the owners because they know that costly legal proceedings will deter homeowners from pursuing them and holding them to account for their shoddy work,’’ Mr Auricchio said.
“Builders that do not respond and attend to works within a reasonable timeframe should have their building registration automatically suspended until such works are performed, particularly where foundation movement is concerned.”
Slater & Gordon’s submission called for the formation of a task force charged with:
i. Determining the number of homes built on waffle slabs affected by slab heave;
ii. Ascertaining whether roof trusses undermined by slab heave issues pose any health and safety; risks; and
iii. Establishing a dispute resolution scheme to be funded by the industry and managed independently.
iv. Introducing a register of complaints, making it compulsory for builders, engineers and surveyors to report consumer complaints concerning footing and foundation issues
Mr Auricchio said the measures were needed immediately to protect Victorians from sub-standard building practices.
“Defective construction work can have long-term implications for homeowners, including diminished property valuations."
“Building is a cornerstone of Victoria’s economy and it relies on homeowners having pure confidence in the industry. By not taking this important action immediately, the Government, the Building Commission and the industry will continue to jeopardise a key pillar of the state’s economy.”