Understanding Your Rights Under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995

The Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 (Vic) – ‘the Act’ – stands as a crucial legal framework governing the obligations and prerequisites of both homeowners and builders in Victoria. Here’s a concise overview of key aspects to be mindful of:

Contractual Essentials: Section 3 of the Act lays out the definition of a major domestic building contract, which this Act governs. Furthermore, Regulation 6 of the Domestic Building Contracts Regulation 2017 mandates that the Act applies to major domestic building contracts for residential building work exceeding $10,000.

The Act also imposes specific requirements for the content of contracts. For instance, Section 31 outlines the minimum general contents of a contract, Section 30 provides information concerning foundations, and Division 4 of Part 2 sets forth the requirements for prime costs and provisional sums, among others.

This attention to detail ensures that contracts encompass vital specifics such as work scope, pricing, and timelines. These details are presented in a comprehensive written format, aiming to ensure that all parties involved fully comprehend their obligations and liabilities. The Act ensures that the contract encompasses vital details such as workscope, pricing, and timelines in written detailed format to ensure the parties understand their obligations and liabilities.

Defect Protections: The Act includes robust provisions designed to safeguard homeowners from defects in residential building work, aligning seamlessly with the Building Act.

The limitation period for building actions, as defined under Section 134 of the Building Act, extends a full decade post-completion. This timeline commences from either the issuance of the Certificate of Final Inspection or the granting of the Occupancy Permit. In situations involving plumbing, clarity is provided by Section 134A of the Building Act, indicating that the 10-year window initiates from the date of the plumbing compliance certificate. Furthermore, when it comes to cladding defects, Section 134(2) of the Building Act extends the limitation period to a total of 15 years post-completion.

Determining whether works are truly ‘defective,’ ‘incomplete,’ or merely failing to meet aesthetic expectations can be intriguing. To facilitate this determination, it’s essential to familiarise yourself with the Building Code, relevant Standards, and the Guides to Standards and Tolerances. However, it’s worth noting that while the Guide to Standards and Tolerances is a valuable resource providing guidance on builders’ obligations to rectify items and their associated timeframes, it doesn’t hold the same level of binding authority as the Code, Standards, or the contractual specifications and terms.

Payment Framework: Section 40 of the Act establishes a default schedule of progress payments within standard domestic building contracts. While Regulation 13 allows for modifications to the standard progress payments outlined by the Act, it imposes stringent warnings and compliance requirements. For instance, according to Regulation 13(1), if the parties intend to alter the progress payment schedule, the building owner must sign the Form 1 in Schedule 1 before signing the major domestic building contract. Similarly, a clause in the form of Form 2 in Schedule 1 must be signed by the building owner before entering the major domestic building contract.

In addition to this, Section 11 of the Act places constraints on deposits, capping them at 5% of the contract price (or 10% if the contract falls below $20,000). It’s crucial for builders and owners to be aware that, pursuant to the Domestic Building Insurance Ministerial Order issued under the Building Act, builders are not entitled to any funds, including deposit monies, until they provide the domestic building warranty insurance cover to the owner. This insurance must be obtained prior to commencing any construction work.

Cooling-off Period: Each major domestic building contract governed by the Act, as per Section 34 of the Act, must incorporate a five-business-day cooling-off period for contract cancellation without incurring any penalties. This cooling-off period takes effect once the owner receives a copy of the building contract. Exceptions come into play when the builder and owner have previously engaged in a similar contract or when the owner has sought independent legal advice before entering into the building contract.

Should the owner decide to terminate the building contract within this cooling-off period, the builder retains the right to deduct from the deposit monies an amount of $100, in addition to any other out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the builder before the owner’s contract termination.

Dispute Resolution: Part 4 of the Act provides a structured framework for resolving building disputes that may arise during residential projects.

Under Section 45, and more broadly, Division 2 of Part 4, when a dispute involves a homeowner, the involved parties are obliged to refer the dispute to the chief dispute resolution officer of the Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) for an attempt at resolution through conciliation. It’s important to note that the DBDRV process is provided free of charge to the parties, contingent on their willingness to engage in good faith to reach a resolution.

In cases where resolution remains elusive, and the matter does not reach a settlement, the DBDRV will issue a Certificate of Conciliation – Dispute not suitable for Conciliation. Subsequently, the matter may proceed to the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal or the Courts (County Court or Supreme Court).

It’s essential to recognize that the Act contains numerous additional provisions. Builders must ensure that their building contracts align with the Act’s and Regulations’ requirements. Homeowners are strongly advised to meticulously review the document and acquaint themselves with legislative requirements. When necessary, seeking legal advice is recommended to gain a comprehensive understanding of their rights and responsibilities under this legislation.

Chat with us if you’d like to learn more.

Scroll to Top