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Problems with private certification of buildings.

By 54-11 - 6 November 2008 19

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has just given a private certifier (those people responsible for checking the quality and safety of new buildings) a serve for failing in his statutory duties.  When the Stanhope government introduced private certification several years ago, many Canberrans were concerned (including LAPACs and neighbourhood groups) about the potential problems this would create.  In NSW, one private certifier in six has been the subject of an adverse disciplinary finding, and the ACT has similar problems although rarely is formal action ever taken.

In this recent case (Hopkins and Construction Occupations Registrar [2008] ACTAAT 28 (29 October 2008), the AAT President commented (inter alia) that:

  • The applicant asserted reliance upon others for his failure to discharge the statutory obligations imposed on him. The deficiency in the building work which he certified as complete was pointed out to him by the Fire Brigade and was obvious. His contravention of the BCA is a matter for which he, as the building certifier, was solely responsible.
  • It is a matter of high importance that those persons who accept the responsibilities imposed on them as construction practitioner licensees be discouraged from the kind of omission found in this case to exist.
  • It is a matter of considerable importance that the public be protected by ensuring that standards designed to protect them and their property from damage are observed.
  • It is desirable that the applicant be made responsible for his omission.
  • It is desirable that the confidence of the public in the requirements of the COL [Construction Occupations (Licencing)] Act be maintained by taking action that responds appropriately and proportionally to any conduct that is a disciplinary ground.
  • The applicant showed a high level of disregard for the need to take action for a most fundamental aspect of his responsibility as a building certifier.
     

This certifier has already been subject to disciplinary action, but it failed to make any difference to his behaviour.  This is because certifiers are in a serious conflict of interest situation, being engaged and paid by developers who have expectations that flaws in quality, safety and other compliance requirements will simply be ignored.  There are also severe resourcing shortages within ACTPLA’s compliance unit and very few reports of sub-standadrd certification are fully investigated.

Here’s hoping that the Greens will have some influence to either improve the quality of compliance, or are able to help roll back this private certification farce.

What’s Your opinion?


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19 Responses to
Problems with private certification of buildings.
Holden Caulfield 3:40 pm 23 Jul 12

puppyfat67 said :

I know its quite a bit later than the other posts but I wanted 2 decks on my house certified and it was quoted as being $2500
I told the guy I didn’t want him to build them, only certify them.
I asked for a breakdown of his figure and even with the govt costs it worked out at approx $400 per hour!!! this is someone on the Govt list directly from ACT Govt.
The 2 decks will only cost $3000 in materials.
They have a manopoly and get away with it, I decided to build them anyway and when we sell just demolish them if its an issue.

We just did some renos/extension on our house and IIRC our certifier was around $1600. Scope of work was well beyond a couple of decks.

puppyfat67 3:26 pm 23 Jul 12

I know its quite a bit later than the other posts but I wanted 2 decks on my house certified and it was quoted as being $2500
I told the guy I didn’t want him to build them, only certify them.
I asked for a breakdown of his figure and even with the govt costs it worked out at approx $400 per hour!!! this is someone on the Govt list directly from ACT Govt.
The 2 decks will only cost $3000 in materials.
They have a manopoly and get away with it, I decided to build them anyway and when we sell just demolish them if its an issue.

KaptainK 7:45 am 08 Nov 08

Hey 54-11 In the interests of accuracy it was actually the Carnell government that introduced the current private building certification system in 1999 not Stanhopless

jakez 10:16 am 07 Nov 08

Gungahlin Al said :

It’s like so many fields where support for tertiary education has been dumbed down over the last decade jakez. You wind back support for unis and TAFEs because they are a ‘cost’, without a view towards the big picture, and here we are.

There aren’t enough people in planning period. Which is why ACTPLA and almost every local government in Australia can’t get enough qualified planners.

You either reduce the amount of development or you sit tight while you restore support for tertiary courses. It took a decade for the folly of Howard’s policies to become evident, and it will take another decade to get students out of courses and experienced. If we start now…

That was your mob wasn’t it jakez??

If by ‘mob’ you mean you are trying to make a link between myself and the Howard Government’s Higher Education policies, all I can say is that I think the regulatory policies of the Howard Government (particularly in the ’04 reforms) were the wrong direction to take. Instead of increasing regulation and control within DEST, I think the Howard Government should have gone down a deregulatory road, such as the reforms proposed by Andrew Norton in his book ‘The Unchained University’. As with any central planning, our Higher Education system always gets future demand wrong and consequently messes up the supply.

As is always the case, the Liberals made a mistake, the ALP are worse, and Jakez started to get very angry after 2000.

Gungahlin Al 9:53 am 07 Nov 08

It’s like so many fields where support for tertiary education has been dumbed down over the last decade jakez. You wind back support for unis and TAFEs because they are a ‘cost’, without a view towards the big picture, and here we are.

There aren’t enough people in planning period. Which is why ACTPLA and almost every local government in Australia can’t get enough qualified planners.

You either reduce the amount of development or you sit tight while you restore support for tertiary courses. It took a decade for the folly of Howard’s policies to become evident, and it will take another decade to get students out of courses and experienced. If we start now…

That was your mob wasn’t it jakez??

jakez 9:28 am 07 Nov 08

affordable said :

a couple of points in regard to certifiers

The ACT has a shortage of them, therefore compliance is not keen to de register them

some certifiers live in Sydney and never visit Canberra yet certify work here, mostly unit complexes and commercial works.

NSW has a chronic shortage of building inspectors. If the ACT went back to this system we would have no inspectors.

Certifiers are only looking for building code and lease conditions compliance,
( maybe ? ) they have no authority to discuss or reveiw quality.( some may shake their heads in disgust )

some certifiers are very padantic about their inspections.

to fix the problems we need more certifiers and more compliance.

anyone looking for a new rewarding job with constant auditing and threat of losing your job

Hmm this does seem to explain it. A very frustrating state of affairs (the ACT seems to have a shortage of everything these days though).

Do you have any ideas on how to increase the numbers of certifiers and increase compliance?

affordable 10:33 pm 06 Nov 08

a couple of points in regard to certifiers

The ACT has a shortage of them, therefore compliance is not keen to de register them

some certifiers live in Sydney and never visit Canberra yet certify work here, mostly unit complexes and commercial works.

NSW has a chronic shortage of building inspectors. If the ACT went back to this system we would have no inspectors.

Certifiers are only looking for building code and lease conditions compliance,
( maybe ? ) they have no authority to discuss or reveiw quality.( some may shake their heads in disgust )

some certifiers are very padantic about their inspections.

to fix the problems we need more certifiers and more compliance.

anyone looking for a new rewarding job with constant auditing and threat of losing your job

Tempestas 8:41 pm 06 Nov 08

Its a sad and sorry state of affairs.

I’m betting if the ACTPLA bulldozer started showing up at non-compliant buildings and did some site re-levelling, that builders would all magically work out how to comply.

There was a doco on energy ratings and the housing industry on ABC a couple of years back, and apparently builders in California like here complained that compliance would be too costly, yet after the relevant planning authority bulldozed a couple of sub-standard constructions builders found they had the right skills all along and prices didn’t move much at all.

Ditto Al and JB

Gungahlin Al 5:01 pm 06 Nov 08

Compliance is always the major problem with these private certifier roll-outs, and governments almost never adequately resource the policing of the conditions – an issue I have raised several times in the Planning and Development Forums with ACTPLA. Neil has assured us that it will be resourced. But the number of non-compliance issues GCC has in with ACTPLA at present – some in that state for several years – indicates this isn’t happening.

And there’s the other thing with the enforcement side – it is almost always after the fact. Very few judges will tell a homeowner to demolish part of their house to fix the error.

There is also the energy star compliance issue. How many house built during periods of mandatory 4 or 5 star ratings are there advertised at 2 or 3 stars? Why? because they never complied in the first place. ACTPLA got budget funding to put a person on to address this and they bailed after a few weeks. That was months ago and still the position hasn’t been backfilled.

Meanwhile we have web real estate ads (also governed by the mandatory declaration provisions) with no EER declared all the time (Domain, AllHomes).

So yep – I’m with you on this JB.

jakez 4:56 pm 06 Nov 08

Sounds like the penalties aren’t stiff enough.

tylersmayhem 3:50 pm 06 Nov 08

*yawn* The money’s on the dresser……oh that’s right, I was in the middle of trying to read through the OP.

harvyk1 2:36 pm 06 Nov 08

“those people responsible for checking the quality and safety of new buildings.” There are people who do that? wow, I never knew that people actually looked into the safety of building prior to occupents moving in. (Well I kinda did, but didn’t believe they actually did anything).

In a previous post I have listed out a short list (which is in no ways complete) of all the problems I once had with a townhouse I was living in. Basically the builder should have been given a kick up the back side for the shoddy work they did, and yet no, it was all up to scratch according to the building inspector.

AG Canberra 2:30 pm 06 Nov 08

How do we know if work that has been certified is kosher? What audit process is undertaken to make sure the private certifiers are doing their job? (apart from a firie pointing out the bleeding obvious!)

54-11 2:07 pm 06 Nov 08

Exactly, JB. And those who don’t like the tune the piper is asked to play, pays the (often very high) price.

johnboy 1:53 pm 06 Nov 08

It was just a matter of time.

He who pays the piper, calls the tune.

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