Building Consumer Affairs
Minister Richard Wynne's Building Regulator (VBA)
Minister Richard Wynne's Building Regulator (VBA) is continuing to harm families and he does not seem to care.
According to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is number two on the list of regulatory bodies open to corruption (The Mandarin 26/07/2018).
Allegations made against the top five Victorian regulators include receiving financial bribes for licenses, failure to issue licenses in line with legislation, collusion to prevent compensation, and covering up inappropriate conduct. There is also evidence that suggests a lack of transparency by regulators can enable misconduct and corruption and also hide it when it does occur.
Margaret, Fiona and Lana's stories clearly show the VBA has been captured by industry and now functions as a closed and corrupted operative, which deliberately obstructs consumer access to compensation.
This is all happening under the apathetic gaze of Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister Richard Wynne.
The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) regulates building and plumbing practitioners and is mandated by Parliament to monitor and enforce compliance according to relevant law. This is not a discretionary power but an obligation and duty under the Building Act.
Right now the VBA is damaging families by omitting and minimizing evidence, removing information from reports, and willfully creating unnecessary delays that break the financial resources and spirit of ordinary people. When consumers question regulatory wrongdoing, the latest strategy of the VBA is to cease communication altogether or engage private, high-profile lawyers to silence voices of discontent and strategically block any hope of owners achieving justice.
Where does this fit within the framework and obligation of the VBA being a model litigant?
So far the Minister for Planning has taken no action to resolve his department's failings or the damage caused to owners, preferring instead to hide in the corridors. Premier Daniel Andrews has the authority to direct Minister Wynne to act but has shamefully declined.
This is not an acceptable response from our elected representatives.
Please read on and consider the plight of Margaret, Fiona and Lana because this could happen to you or anyone else in Victoria.
Lana and Boris
For nine years this Melbourne couple has been trying to get their disability retirement home built.
They have been in contact with the building regulator since 2011 when the original dwelling was found to be very defective. In 2014, Lana and Boris began the planned rectification which was finished in 2015. Independent reports have since confirmed the building could never be repaired and should instead have been pulled down. This was confirmed when the VBA stated to Judge Dyer at VCAT in late 2016 that the home would need to be demolished.
Via some insane path of logic, the VBA is now requiring Boris to comply with three Building Orders to repair the defects on the same building that the regulator itself said should be rebuilt! Even more extraordinary, the building surveyor, structural engineers, and draughtsman who caused the defects that resulted in major Building Orders to repair the basement (at an estimated cost of one million dollars) were all found not guilty by the Victorian Building Authority (BPB).
Lana raised her concerns and sought an explanation from the VBA who in turn, promised they would work directly with her to resolve the problems. A month later, the VBA Director who made this promise denied doing so and when Lana requested a proper explanation, the VBA engaged a private lawyer against her and noted the VBA will no longer be communicating.
Boris and Lana became homeless.
Lana is an invalid with very serious health issues. Members of Parliament, including Senator Kim Carr, have repeatedly requested Minister Wynne resolve this disaster but he has refused to do so.
Recently VBA Director John Thompson told the press this family "could now face a fine of up to $79,285" if they fail to comply with the building orders they did not cause!
Now the VBA has restricted Boris and Lana from telling the whole truth of their experience to IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman.
Fiona paid eight hundred and seventy thousand dollars for her retirement property that last year was valued at half that being land value only.
For years she fought a battle with the regulators and learned that the Building Commission, Building Practitioners Board, and the Victorian Building Authority deliberately minimized allegations that protected the livelihoods of practitioners and their insurances.
At great personal expense, she had to take the Building Practitioners Board to VCAT to force them to hold an Inquiry into the conduct of the relevant building surveyor. O'Hehir v Building Practitioners Board  VCAT 113 at  made it clear that a mandatory
inspection does not simply require the inspection of an element of the work; it means all building work that is the "subject of the building permit".
Despite this valiant win at VCAT, Fiona's struggle for justice continues.
Margaret is now living in a defective noncompliant home.
The VBA appears negligent by deliberately presenting errors of fact to the BPB thus interfering with the Board's duty to take proper disciplinary action into the conduct of the surveyor who caused Margaret's detriment.
The VBA willfully manipulated the truth and said the building works were for an alteration and extension when in fact the works were for the construction of a two-story home.
Further, whilst an allegation was referred to the Building Practitioners Board against the surveyor for unlawfully permitting an unregistered person inspecting the mandatory frame stage, no allegation was referred against the same surveyor unlawfully permitting a second unregistered person approving two mandatory slab stages of inspection, and a third unregistered person performing the mandatory final inspection for the Occupancy Certificate, which now has no validity.
All these inspections were on the same site under the same building permit.
The property cannot be sold without declaring this illegality on Section 32 of the Contract of Sale. Defective cladding (brickwork) around the entire dwelling and the slab raised contrary to submitted plans which impacted upon the garage door opening size and entry of certain vehicles, have been omitted altogether, with no allegations framed against the surveyor for this wrongdoing.
Margaret's home insurance was canceled and her home devalued to little more than the land value it was six years ago.
The surveyor involved was facing 400 allegations across 131 sites. Obviously, he had caused a great deal of harm in the wider community.
The Victorian Building Authority and the Building Practitioners Board neglected and withdrew dozens of allegations that would have raised concerns as to whether this practitioner was a fit and proper person and as a result, no serious sanctions were brought against him.
The Building Practitioners Board then allowed this serial offender to keep his registration and be free to practice in the community with just a reprimand. This deliberate strategy by the building regulator prevented affected families from gaining access to the surveyor's insurance.
Margaret has repeatedly written to the VBA requesting they take proper disciplinary action for the omitted allegations mentioned above but remains subject to a VBA holding decision that could extend indefinitely and push her beyond the timeframe of ever being able to achieve justice.
The VBA has now engaged expert staff to work on closing files that will shut consumers out and skew statistical outcomes to create the illusion that the VBA is doing its job.
Where is consumer protection here?
Without a doubt, the Victorian Building Authority and the Building Practitioners Board have failed their primary function and duty as mandated by Parliament, to monitor and enforce compliance with the provisions of the Building Act and the regulations relating to building and building practitioners.
Making matters worse, the Minister responsible for the VBA has shirked his responsibility by not intervening and taking proper action to correct systemic wrongdoing by his own department.
Minister Wynne, how can any consumer navigate a system so devoid of integrity?
Building Consumer Affairs is a free information-based website that comprises current and historical stories and analyses of how the Australian residential building industry operates.
Building Consumer Affairs believes the role and function of the building regulator are to monitor and enforce compliance. This ensures high standards in the building industry are maintained. Building Consumer Affairs will strive to assist consumers navigating the perilous pathway of construction by providing access to relevant information and sharing cautionary tales that will inform.
We actively collaborate with building industry representatives and engage directly with the government and the community to achieve our vision and purpose. Please contact us for more information.