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Residential Building Work Contracts and Dispute Resolution Bill No. 54 of 2015

August 18, 2016

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I too support the bill.  It is important we make sure what we have is appropriate, and I am pleased that in 2012 it did go back to the drawing board for more consultation. 

 

In the past some people had building disputes at Blackstone Heights and unfortunately it is outside the six-year period.  I do not how we came up with the period of six years and I would be interested in the Leader letting me know.  The people I mentioned had a house and two units, as did next door.  The final building that was built showed signs of problems after about five or six years, and it was then that the land started slipping away in front of the other properties.  While it was not the actual building of the house itself, it was still to do with it because they were built on fill, and that appears to be the problem.

 

I am wondering how issues like that would come up now with regard to a building contractor.  I guess it all becomes part of the process with an engineer, a planner, builder or council.  The issues these constituents of mine have is, who was at fault?  Was it the council for allowing them to build, or the engineer who did the soil testing, or the builder?  It makes it difficult.  I see something like this, in some cases, as making things much easier.  The only option open to them is to go to lawyers and then they are still not sure whom they are going to sue.  It certainly makes it hard, so I appreciate that we have something like this that, for periods within six years, at least gives some surety of where you are going.

 

It is also important, when changes are made to buildings, that it is put in writing and signed.  From my own experience, I might decide to change something minor but what I have in my mind and what the builder has in his mind could end up being something totally different.  Often we foresee what we want the changes to be, but what the builder is assuming we want the changes to be may not be the same thing we are envisaging.  Therefore it is very good to have it in writing so it is clear for everyone and no-one gets a nasty shock at the end of the day.

 

Ms Rattray  - Or at the end of the week if you are in Hobart.

 

Mrs Armitage - Or at the end of the week.  All changes can be very costly, depending on what you are changing and if you have to change something back.  Then who is liable, because you changed something back?  I see this bill before us as being very good on that front.

 

The other issue is to do with costs and the time when contracts are set and building works start.  We know the cost can rise and it does not matter whether it is timber, iron or bricks, it does make it very hard sometimes for builders or building firms to estimate what something is going to cost if there is a fair time between the start and the contract being put together.

 

It has been mentioned by others that building a home is one of your major commitments, and it is, but it is to be able to clarify and be sure of what you are doing from both perspectives.  As we have heard, and also previously when the bill came up in 2012 I recall we had some constituents telling us about some of their issues, but we also had some builders with problems.  Vexatious claims can be on both sides, it is not just one way or the other.  It is important that we protect both sides of the argument and -

 

Ms Rattray  - The member makes a very good point that the focus is not just on having enough protection for the consumer but also for the builder.

 

Mrs Armitage - Absolutely.  I believe we have to protect both sides because, as has been mentioned by another member previously, a builder can go bankrupt.  That can be caused by problems that might or might not have been within their control.  It is important to have it set out very clearly what the rights are.

 

One question about being bankrupt is, if the builder was to go bankrupt within that period, is there a pool of money that comes into play?  It was an issue for my previous constituents.  One of the major issues they have is that the builder who built their homes went bankrupt.  They could not sue this person because this person no longer had the company by which the homes were built.  That is why they then decided to go to the local council, sue the engineer and in the end they are sitting with lawyers - that is the hard part.  They could not afford to pay lawyers so they have gone to those lawyers who say, 'If we win, we charge you'.  It was a very hard situation for the elderly couple I was dealing with.

 

The neighbour next door, who was in a similar situation with one house and two units, went bankrupt and basically gave the two units and house back to the bank.  It was very sad because in both situations the bank wanted their money.  They had borrowed from the bank to buy the properties, which were beautiful properties initially.  They showed us their home overlooking the water with the two units next door for their two daughters to live in.  It was a lovely property until all of a sudden everything started slipping into the water.  It is still currently sitting there, unoccupied because it is not allowed to be occupied - all the pipes came away, the sewerage came away, there is no sewer and no water on.  A situation like this, which occurred after a six-year period but also with bankrupt builders, makes you wonder where it can go.

 

I appreciate that it does not matter what you legislate for, there is always going to be something that will fall outside the scope of it.  Hopefully it will pick up most cases.  I appreciate that in this bill before us today, it picks up many cases but there are always going to be some cases that fall outside the scope and are not picked up.

 

All in all, I support what is before us.  It would be good to see if consumer groups were also consulted and if industry was consulted on the amendments that are before us.  On that note, I support the bill.

 

 

 

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