13/01/2017 - 13:14

Questions over commission process

13/01/2017 - 13:14


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Consumers and contractors are becoming frustrated with the regulatory regime in residential construction.

Questions over commission process
The owner of this house in Bayswater had to appoint a new builder after Kameleon Homes failed to finish the job. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Consumers and contractors are becoming frustrated with the regulatory regime in residential construction.

The state opposition has called for a review into the operation, function and effectiveness of the Building Commission, following a fresh round of disciplinary action against a rogue builder.

Earliter this week, the commission announced that Kameleon Homes sole trader Jeffrey West had been fined $15,000 and ordered to pay $3,200 in costs through the State Administrative Tribunal for misleading and deceptive conduct that included forging documents.

The fines came after the Building Commission refused to renew Mr West’s building licence in August, following a spike in complaints against the builder, mostly regarding unfinished and unsatisfactory work, while a number of subcontractors also alleged they had not been paid.

While Labor commerce spokesperson Kate Doust told Business News it was positive for the industry that Mr West had been fined and his licence removed, she said it had taken a significant amount of time and sustained lobbying to get to this point.

Building Commission documents obtained by Labor through the Freedom of Information Act indicate the first notice of a complaint against Kameleon Homes was lodged in October 2013.

However, Commerce Minister Michael Mischin told parliament under questioning from Ms Doust last year that he was first made aware of complaints against the builder in June last year.

The Building Commission said yesterday that the first disciplinary complaints it received were made in October 2015.

Ms Doust said she had been contacted by a long list of homebuyers and subcontractors frustrated with their dealings with the Building Commission, with the time it took to deal with a complaint their top grievance.

“It takes so long for anything to happen and it ends up costing the consumer, the homebuilder, an enormous amount of money and time trying to get their application through the processes of the Building Commission, or ultimately they just get flicked off to SAT,” Ms Doust said.

“I’ve got three homebuilders with another company that have been waiting 12 months now for a resolution, but they’ve been told by the Building Commission that they have to wait another 12 months to get an outcome.

“It’s costing these homebuilders significant legal fees and other costs that they’d never factored into when they started building their homes.”

In the case of Kameleon Homes, Ms Doust said her investigations indicated that Mr West had left the country and, as such, she did not expect the fine to be paid.

Building Commissioner Peter Gow said the commission was made aware in July last year that Mr West had left Australia, but said it would periodically check to see if he had returned to the state.

Ms Doust said: “They’ve put it out there and said ‘aren’t we good, we’ve nabbed this bloke, we’ve shut him down and we’ve issued him with a fine’.

“But the reality is, he’s not in the country, they’re never going to be able to retrieve that money and there is going to be no positive impact for the subcontractors that he hasn’t paid, nor to the homebuilders who have either incomplete homes or shoddily built homes as a result of this fellow.

“I met with the building commissioner when we did the FOI, because I was clearly of the view that they had been aware of his poor behaviour quite some time ago, well before this latest round of fines.

“Post-election, there needs to be a significant review into the operation and function and effectiveness of the Building Commission, so it does actually deliver swifter outcomes for the consumer.”

Ms Doust said she questioned whether the commission was properly resourced to deal with the issues.

However, the Building Commission last week said it received 912 complaints in 2015-16, down from the 927 it received in 2014-15.

An auditor-general’s report into the effectiveness of the commission released midway through last year indicated that it resolved complaints in a reasonable manner, but said 40 per cent of those took longer than its target of 150 days to resolve.

Mr Gow said timeframes tended to vary for investigations because of their complex nature.

The report also found that the commission did not ensure builders were complying with remedial orders or paying fines arising from investigations, which undermined its authority and reduced its effectiveness as a regulator.


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