Time for stricter regulation of the Victorian building industry?

Main aspects and practical considerations of the proposed amendments to the Building Act 1993 (Vic)

The Government of Victoria considers that a major overhaul of Victoria’s building regulatory framework is needed to address widespread consumer concerns about building safety, quality, compliance and efficiency.

On June 21, 2022, the Victorian Parliament introduced the The Buildings, Town Planning and Heritage Legislation (Administration and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2022 (vic) (Invoice). The bill proposes to make a myriad of changes to a range of laws, including, and for the purposes of discussion in this article, the Building Act 1993 (vic) (building law).

The Bill’s amendments to the Building Act are intended to “implement reforms to reshape the regulatory landscape in Victoria, with a focus on consumer protection.’ The bill implements increased regulation and supervision of the building industry and moves away from the private regulation of the building industry introduced by the Kennett government which removed the local council’s role in granting building approvals. The Building Act amendments implemented by the Bill will result in a hybrid system of building regulation that is arguably a halfway house between private regulation and regulation by local council and government. of State.

The bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly on August 4, 2022 and is now before the Legislative Council for consideration.

These changes were prompted by recent controversies and shortcomings in the building industry, including the widespread use of combustible coatings, the adoption of non-compliant building materials, and concerns about the structural integrity of large apartment complexes. . All of these issues have raised widespread concerns about the effectiveness of building industry regulation and the cost of these issues has been borne primarily by owners and government.

An expert advisory committee appointed by the Victorian Commissioner for Better Regulation (Expert Group) is currently undertaking a meticulous review of Victoria’s building regulatory framework. The review includes a three-step schedule during which the expert panel will conduct research, consult with consumers and industry professionals, and analyze data to develop advice on the drafting of the bill. It is expected that this guidance will be finalized by 2023, when or shortly thereafter the Bill will receive Royal Assent and enabling legislation will come into force.

This article aims to summarize some of the key aspects of the bill, as well as practical considerations for building practitioners, surveyors and other industry professionals.

A. Main amendments to the Building Act

Parts 2 through 6 of the Bill amend the Building Act to implement several of the panel’s recommendations, including, but not limited to:

  1. the appointment of a State Building Surveyor (SBS);
  2. appoint a building monitor;
  3. the expansion of the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) information and data sharing powers;
  4. compel municipal land surveyors to have the building inspected at the request of a competent council;
  5. change the categories of building practitioner;
  6. requiring land surveyors to provide an information statement to the owner of the building or land;
  7. require that certain building works be subject to an additional prior inspection by a city/municipal surveyor before an occupancy permit is issued;
  8. require construction manuals to be prepared by an applicant for a building permit and provided to the owners’ corporation and require that this construction manual be updated by owners and owners’ corporations with respect to certain buildings;
  9. provide additional purposes for which money may be withdrawn from the Cladding Safety Victoria Account;
  10. change VBA delegation powers; and
  11. provision of restricted licenses to perform plumbing work.

In particular, the statutory roles of the SBS and the Building Monitor are summarized as follows:

B. State Building Inspector

The Victorian Government established the SBS as an executive member of the VBA as a source of expertise on building standards and requirements, and to encourage and promote improvements in the Victorian building system.

Part 2 of the bill proposes a new division to be inserted into the Building Act to provide for the appointment, purposes, functions and powers of the SBS.

The SBS will be appointed by the VBA, after having obtained the written approval of the Minister. The SBS will perform its duties under the terms and conditions determined by the VBA.

SBS functions include, but are not limited to:

  1. prepare and issue binding rulings for the interpretation of building and plumbing standards;
  2. provide expert advice and guidance;
  3. advise the minister on policy and regulatory matters;
  4. represent the state on bodies developing national building and plumbing standards and requirements;
  5. work with building system regulators to improve industry standards and practices;
  6. provision of training and education on technical matters relating to construction work, plumbing work and building surveying work; and
  7. monitor and report on the performance of the general surveying industry (see proposed new section 206B).

It is important to note that the SBS must consult with building system regulators, industry professionals and other stakeholders in order to properly discharge its functions and objectives (see new section 206B(2 ) offers).

In addition, the SBS can issue binding rulings on the interpretation of technical standards or requirements for construction or plumbing work (see proposed new Section 206E). These rulings will be binding on building practitioners, including builders and plumbers, and failure to comply with any binding SBS ruling when carrying out building or plumbing work will be an offense under the Buildings Act. the building and will lead to disciplinary consequences. Binding decisions of the SBS will also be enforced by the Buildings Appeals Board and construction surveyors.

C. Building Monitor

Part 3 of the Bill proposes a new section to be inserted into the Building Act to provide for the appointment, purposes, functions and powers of the building controller.

The Governor in Council may, by instrument, on the recommendation of the Minister, appoint a building controller.

The primary objectives of the Building Monitor include, but are not limited to, identifying and raising awareness of systemic issues affecting national buildings stakeholders and providing expert advice to the Minister on these systemic issues (see new proposed section 208E). According to the Minister of Spatial Planning and Minister of Housing, the Building Monitor’is responsible for representing and advocating for consumers of domestic buildings at a systemic level‘ at ‘identify issues faced by home building consumers and work collaboratively with building system entities to improve coordination of information and better target support services.’

Building Monitor functions include, but are not limited to:

  1. advise and make recommendations to the Minister on systemic issues and risks that affect parties involved in nation building;
  2. report on research conducted in relation to (1) above;
  3. advocate for systemic issues and risks faced by consumers of national buildings;
  4. collect and analyze information and data to identify issues faced by consumers of domestic buildings; and
  5. develop and promote educational materials and strategies to reduce the consequences for parties involved in home construction (see proposed new Section 208F).

The building controller must also prepare a strategic plan four months after appointment and submit it to the Minister for approval (see proposed new section 208J).

In addition, the building controller must prepare and publish an annual report on the building controller’s issues during the first year of his appointment and for each year of subsequent appointment (see proposed new section 208P).

D. Practical Considerations

The Bill and corresponding Building Act Amendments are an integral part of reshaping and reforming Victoria’s building regulatory landscape. Increased building regulatory oversight is designed to improve and enforce building safety, compliance, quality and efficiency.

In light of the recent publication of the bill, building practitioners, land surveyors and other industry professionals will need to consider how the proposed new changes to the Building Act will affect their daily practice.

In particular, stakeholders will be able to rely on the SBS and the Building Monitor for advice, guidance and support regarding (among other things) the interpretation of standards and requirements, as well as systemic risks and issues facing are faced by consumers of domestic buildings.