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Builders’ board gets sharper teeth

THE Master Builders’ Association has welcomed changes to the Builders Registration Act which will improve the mechanism for resolving building disputes and deal with faulty or unlicensed building work.

The new laws give the Builders Registration Board the power to impose substantial increases in fines on unregistered builders and for licence lending.

It also expands the ability of inspectors to issue infringement notices against builder and owner builders for prescribed offences. The Board’s expanded role will also include carrying out educational activities.

Currently the Board has only got the power to cancel or suspend a builder’s registration.

“That is not always the most effective mechanism because the builder may have 40 contracts but only have a problem with one or two,” BRB registrar Nigel Lilley said.

“We had the teeth but we didn’t have any flexibility in the teeth.

“The new Act gives the Board the power to also fine a builder for up to $25,000.”

According to MBA director Michael McLean the reforms were long overdue and have been keenly awaited by builders.

“The amendments will go a long way to dealing with many of the problems raised in the recently concluded Gunning inquiry,” Mr McLean said.

“These latest reforms will allow the Builders Registration Board to take on a more pro-active role to help builders and homeowners, thereby minimising disputes and dealing with faulty work.”

However the administrator of the amended Act is not entirely happy with the changes. Like the MBA, Mr Lilley believes that the Act still goes too soft on owner-builders and keeps them out of the loop.

Both Mr McLean and BRB register Nigel Lilley described owner-builders as free riders who used the tribunal but did not have to contribute to its maintenance.

In a frank interview with Business News, Mr Lilley said; “Owner-builders can use the system, they can bring complaints to the builders disputes committee, they can build houses and yet they are not contributing,” Mr Lilley said.

“I believe that they should be contributing.

“In a way an owner builder has more access to the tribunal then a registered builder can because they can take disputes with contractors to the tribunal – something that registered builders do not have.

I don’t now what their (the Government’s) game is. I would hope that it would be reviewed in 2001.”

“If I was an owner builder in the same situation, if someone said you’ve got to pay $100 or $200 for the benefit of being an owner builder, what do you think about it. The obvious thing to say would be to say ‘no, I’m not going to get anything for it.’ They don’t get the free meal.”

Mr McLean said it was disappointing that owner builders were still being treated differently to registered builders and were not required to pay fees to support the activities of the BRB and its disputes tribunal.”

He said the MBA was also keen to ensure that homeowners paid a complaint fee which was high enough to prevent vexatious complaints being lodged.

“Because the Board and its disputes tribunal plays such an important role in maintaining high standards of building in WA, they require regular reviews to ensure that they are operating well and meeting the expectations of the industry and their clients,” Mr McLean said.

“If owner builders have access to building disputes committee they should be underwriting the operation by paying a building levy.

“If builders pay a levy so should owner builders. We would describe them as free loaders.”

A spokesman for Fair Trading Minister Doug Shave said owner builders did contribute by way of the $35 levy payable to their Local Council. The only difference at the moment is that they don’t have to pay a registration fee because they are not professional builders. Access to the Builders Dispute Tribunal will also carry a cost for owner builders.

“If they want to use the disputes resolution process the proposed fee will be $100,” the spokesman said.

The new Act does improve the Board’s chances of operating a balanced budget. For the past six years, running at a deficit, the new laws are expected to increase the Board’s revenue by about $700,000 a year to $2.5 million.

The Board is hoping there would be no need for Government grants like the $200,000 they received earlier in the year to help remove a backlog of claims.

The new Act also gives the Board the power to deal with so-called phoenix companies.

This is when “you get particular people, they form a company, incur debts, don’t pay the creditors, milk money off from the company and the company then becomes insolvent,” Mr Lilley said.

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