Diverse FMX: Building Defects- FAQ’s

The Diverse Group of Companies and our team of licensed building industry professionals have been assisting bodies corporate in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory in managing defective building work claims against the original builder for over a decade and have inspected construction and regulatory compliance in over 3,500 properties.

Data from these inspections has assisted University research studies into the nature and severity of defects in Australia and have identified alarming trends. Here are some of the most common questions we have posed to us on a daily basis in our role as building defect consultants:

Q.1 How many buildings have defects?

100% of buildings inspected during the defect liability period following practical completion of construction have building defects claimable under the builder’s statutory warranty.

Q.2 What are the top three (3) worst defects?

The top three (3) worst and most recurring defects in our experience include: –

1. Passive fire defects – these are defects in the fire separation systems within the building fabric, e.g. fire rated walls/ceilings, fire collars, fire rated blockwork, core filling, sealant, etc. Defects in the passive fire aspects of the fire protection system are particularly difficult to view and measure as they are often concealed from view and require an invasive survey to discover.

2. Water leaks – this includes any water that leaks or ingresses into a habitable area causing not only a health and safety issue [e.g. mould growth] but potential for structural deterioration if left unrepaired. Water leaks include roof leaks, bathroom leaks, laundry leaks, window/door leaks, etc. and are particularly nasty because many leaks may not be obvious for some time – and usually only appear once the damage is done. Efflorescence [calcium buildup] is evidence of water leaking and is a defect.

3. Paint failure – we see evidence of the first external paint job on the exterior of the building being rushed with inadequate film build thickness and coating, especially in rendered [textured] masonry construction. Coupled with the normal settlement associated with concrete structures, fine cracks appear in the coating, allowing water ingress and early deterioration of the substrate.

Q.3 What happens if these defects are unresolved?

The bottom line is, that if the building owner does not make a successful claim against the original builder, the building owner will be responsible to rectify the defects at its own cost. Failure to remedy defects may result in:

* Voided insurance claims [insurers don’t cover issues arising out of building defects] * Breach of Building Act [must maintain approved infrastructure in accordance with occupancy permit] * Infringement penalties from regulator for non-compliance [e.g. Queensland Fire & Emergency Services]

Q.4 Why do we get building defects? What are the top five (5) causes of defects?

The construction process is a systematic collaboration between developer, designer, engineer, builder, supplier, trade contractor and certifier. Naturally, when so many “fingers are in the pie” issues are bound to occur. It is our view that the nature and occurrence of defects in our current construction environment provides evidence of systemic failure across the entire design-supply-certification chain. Our top five (5) causes of defects in our experience are:

1. Lack of site supervision – Bring back the Clerk of Works model [we say!]. The greatest number of defects in our experience stem from lack of supervision of construction workers on site. Coupled with the pressure to achieve tight construction works programs and the self-assessment model [i.e. the trade contractor is responsible for certifying his own work], we have created a breeding ground for cutting corners during construction.

2. Lack of certification rigor – Private Certification Guidelines limit the number of mandatory “hold point” inspections required to be undertaken throughout the construction process, so instead of checking the works on site the Private Certifier relies on self-certification [records] to be provided by the contractor.

3. Lack of trade contractor competency – A number of workers on commercial construction sites are not QBCC license holders, and instead are “skilled labourers” undertaking works as an employee of the Licensee.

4. Design issues – In many cases the Architect only prepares the conceptual design for the Developer who, once the Development Approval is issued, adopts a Design and Construct model for the working drawings. This requires the sub-contractor to prepare the design for his aspect of works – e.g. post tension slab contractor would do his own design – and certify his own work. Often these D&C drawings are incomplete and rely heavily on the sub-contractor to “design” on site as they build. This also gives rise to weak design, poor workmanship and defects.

5. Building owner failure to inspect in first 12 months of life – The one thing we can all control is the way we approach building defects. If every body corporate took steps to have a building industry professional inspect for defects in the first few months following practical completion of construction, we would have a much greater rate of success in holding the builder to account.

Q. 5 How can the building owner take steps to effectively manage building defects?

The first step is for the body corporate [building owner] to harvest from the Developer at the first AGM for the scheme the following documents;

1. The Building Contract – we need this to lodge a defective building work claim
2. The Development Approval – we need this to manage any changes to common property proposed throughout its life
3. The “As Constructed” Plans – we need these to manage and maintain our building for its full life cycle
4. Warranties – we need these for managing warranty claims
5. The “Baseline Data” – this is mandatory under AS1851 for the maintenance of the fire protection system for the full life of the building

The second most important step is to engage a building industry professional as soon as practical in the first year of the life of the building to undertake a full defect inspection for the benefit of the lot owners.

Q.6 What is the defect liability period? How much time do we have to lodge a defect claim?

Structural defects [including water leaks, major cracks, structural failure, etc.] have a 6 years + 6 months defect liability period in Queensland. Non-structural defects [including frayed carpet, paint and tiling defects] have a 12-month defect liability period.

Once you know about a defect you have 12 months to report it to the builder and lodge a defective building work complaint with the Queensland Building & Construction Commission, so it is important to act promptly on all defects.

Author: Diverse FMX