Better, more competent certifiers might help stem the tide of bad building practice. So might bringing an end to performance-based standards that allows some builders to “turn black into white”. And to stop “registered” training organisations that advertise to become a registered builder in six weeks for just $1600.
This special report reflects the mood in the better part of the industry for solutions.
Reading through reviews of home builders at productreview.com gives some dreadful insights into the kinds of defects buyers are experiencing in brand new homes.
It’s not just the small builders, some of the country’s biggest residential volume builders are also getting ratings of “terrible” with detailed descriptions of shonky workmanship and difficulties consumers have faced in trying to have faults rectified.
So how do we fix the system and ensure buyers are getting what they pay for?
According to Stephen Albin, managing director Oceania of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the first step is to have national harmonisation of standards and regulations.
1. Harmonise the standards
Currently, building regulations vary from state-to-state and in terms of who undertakes compliance inspections and at what stage inspections are carried out.
2. A solid assurance regime
The second thing needed, Albin tells The Fifth Estate, is solid assurance regimes from the building industry.
That means avoiding situations where a conflict of interest arises because the rules allow the builder to appoint the certifier.
3. Make the certifier at arms length, use the Queensland “Taxi rank” approach
“We need to make sure the perception of conflict of interest is taken out of it. Being at arm’s length from the builder – that’s where we are heading.”
The Queensland government is currently moving to address this by proposing a “taxi rank” approach where surveyors are assigned by a neutral party.
The idea was raised at the Building Ministers Forum as a possible national approach, however, Albin says it was rejected by COAG.
“But I think it needs further exploration.”
Those certifying buildings also need to be part of an organisation that has a global assurance regime, he says. And they need to be “regulated to the highest standards”.
4. Comprehensive reforms
All three elements need to be addressed – harmonisation, independence of verification and regulation and assurance of those doing the verifying.
“One on its own won’t work.
“We need to look at comprehensive reform.”
5. No compliance, no work (they do it in the UK)
In terms of regulation of surveyors and certifiers, if there was an assurance regime similar to the one operated by RICS in the UK, the compliance procedures mean that if a practitioner breaches the rules, by the end of the disciplinary process they find themselves unable to work.
“We haven’t got to the same level of sophistication in this country,” Albin says.
“We need to get the assurance regime right and it needs to be rigorous.
“It has got to be industry-based, peer-reviewed and have the full force of industry organisations behind it.”
In the medical and legal professions, these kinds of approaches are already established – and malpractice means losing the licence to operate for doctors and lawyers.
“Development is so important to the country – and the quality of that is so important,” Albin says.
6. Early inspections
One of the major weak points in terms of quality he wants to see addressed is waterproofing.
It is the “worst thing” in a building when it is not up to standard, he says.
“If waterproofing comes in as a defect it’s huge.
“In other jurisdictions [outside Australia] authorities are saying ‘we want an inspection as it is being laid’.
“In Australia, inspection is coming later in a project.”
The need is to get the certifiers involved earlier.
Albin says that because building a house is so complex, defects will always occur – but if competent certifiers are involved earlier, problems can be spotted and rectified earlier.
This would mean fewer defects to be found by the end user.
In addition to the certifier being on site watching waterproofing being laid, Albin says there should also be inspections of foundations, footings and slabs.
This is the model used in the USA, where there are milestone events that require overseeing by a certifier.
7. Get rid of performance-based materials
The Builders Collective of Australia represents small builders around the country. BCA president Phil Dwyer tells The Fifth Estate that one of the major things required to fix compliance is for the National Construction Code to remove the ability for developers to consider performance-based materials.
“They can turn black into white,” Dwyer says.
The other thing that is absolutely needed is enforcement of the regulations that already exist, he says.
8. Enforce the rules
“It doesn’t matter how much regulation we have if we don’t enforce it.”
He says the deemed-to-satisfy requirements in the NCC allow a builder to do “almost anything we like so long as we can get someone to sign off on it – it’s not hard.”
The use of flammable cladding on high rises is a case in point – it does not comply with NCC requirements, but those buildings were signed off on as compliant.
Dwyer says that is enforcement was strengthened “we could end up with a good building industry”.
Currently, everyone is “passing the buck”, he says, and neither the federal government or the Australian Building Codes Board is doing enough to ensure compliance.
“We all need to be doing more across the board – and the ABCB needs to be doing more.
9. Regulate and enforce the regulations, nationally
“The states need to regulate and enforce the regulations.”
Regulations need to be uniform across the country and the ABCB needs to have oversight.
10. Mandate footings and waterproofing inspections
Dwyer says footings and waterproofing inspections should be mandatory. Water ingress and mould can see a home start to fail within 12 months.
“Some of these homes we are building are only going to last a year – we are putting people’s lives at risk with rubbish.
“People in the industry know they can get away with murder.
11. Overhaul the occupancy certification standards – one apartment is not enough
Final certificates of occupancy also need an overhaul. Currently, just one apartment needs to be inspected for the whole block to issue a certificate of occupancy.
A single home builder requires a certificate for every dwelling.
“The imbalance is ridiculous.”
12. Get the MBA and HIA to step up (?)
A better running industry needs industry associations such as the Master Builders Association and the Housing Industry Association to step up, he says.
13. Eliminate dodgy training organisations offering a “registered building licence in just six weeks for $1600”
Another idea is a requirement for Continuing Professional Development – provided from outside the HIA and MBA.
It would also help to eliminated dodgy registered training organisations.
“RTOs have been advertising to become a registered builder in six weeks for $1600 – it’s just a farce.
“They are putting people in the industry that don’t know anything.
“For the last six or seven years we have been hounding the government to do something about training organisations.”
14. Stop building for just four or six years
Dwyer says the quality of building is down to the lowest ebb of all time and he predicts some buildings will be demolished in four or five years time instead of them lasting for 100 years.
“We built better 100 years ago.”
It’s also possible to build very successfully with the current code, he says.
15. Take notice of those who understand the industry
“Governments instead of passing the buck should take notice of the people that understand the industry and stop listening to those voices saying ‘nothing to see here’.
National vice president of the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors Wayne Liddy says the institute wants national regulations and a requirement for the licensing of professionals and practitioners in the industry.
“Here’s an example, I was at a site meeting recently, and there were 19 parties around the table and I was the only licensed one.
“We need registration of all the practitioners in the building supply chain.”
16. Stop builders subbing out their licence
He says that while builders are the ones responsible for a building on many projects, the holder of the builder’s licence may not even be on site.
“Nationally, we need governments to understand, listen and act. We need to tackle consumer protection head-on.”
Liddy says that surveyors have been delegated the responsibility by governments to administer the building regulations – but the extent to which on-site inspections to ensure compliance are required varies from state to state.
He says the AIBS believes inspections should be required for footings, frames, fire separation walls and also a final completion inspection.
Wet areas should not be a burden on the surveyors, he says.
Some of the state governments are calling for wet area inspections, and he suggests this could be done as a third party inspection.
17. Register the certifiers
The bottom line is that if everyone was registered and did the right thing, we would have compliance.
However, currently there is an “absence of oversight and auditing by regulators”.
The government is, however, “happy to benefit from a buoyant building industry”.
18. Random auditing
Random auditing and regulation of licensed and registered practitioners would be a solution, Liddy says.
“If you know there is a chance you’ll be audited – if you are aware your ability to act [in your profession] is in the window of the regulator, you’ll do the right thing.”
The “prospect of being hauled over the coals” and losing the ability to practice should apply throughout the supply chain, he says.
He says at the moment, because there is a limited number of registered practitioners in the supply chain, building surveyors are an “easy target” when things go wrong.
19. Take responsibility through the whole supply chain
“We expect responsibility throughout the supply chain,” Liddy says
“We believe there has got to be some early intervention. We have known about the problems for some time – now there needs to be early intervention rather than just [talking about] compliance.
Liddy says the consumer suffers.
“There are more warranties on a toaster [than a house].”
20. Mandatory CPDs for surveyors
He wants building surveyors to undertake mandatory CPD.
The AIBS policy also calls for mandatory auditing of registered surveyors.
21. A designated building minister
The states and federal government also need to have a designated building minister – and keep that function separate from planning.
22. Get regulators to act as regulators
And regulators should be acting like regulators, and enacting their responsibilities of oversight and auditing.
“We don’t want to see a reactionary policy. We don’t want a system of building controls based on a catastrophe [like Grenfell Tower].
“We want to see an industry that provides consumer protection.”
23. Bring the National Construction Code up to speed
The NCC also needs to come up to speed.
“The NCC has not kept up with the ever-evolving building industry and with design,” Liddy says.
“The building industry evolves by the week.”
Examples include the emergence of modular and flat-pack construction.
He says that if the NCC is used the way it should be it can deliver compliance – but it needs everyone in the supply chain to undertake CPD.
Liddy says that while the NCC is a performance-based document, few in the design and building sectors understand that.
“It is so open to interpretation.
24. Bring education up to modern standards
“There needs to be education of the industry. Most people in the building industry are still using terms we used 20 years ago.”