Building Permit Hell, Building Commission In Damage Control

Shannyn HunterOPINION
by Shannyn Hunter
Conveyancer Lawyers Conveyancing

The front page of The Age (29/05/07) may have had Victorian homeowners panicking. It seems 780 permits issued in Victoria between September 2005 and August 2006 could be void or incomplete, potentially affecting thousands of homeowners and sending the Building Commission into major damage control.

The “exclusive” article by Andrea Petrie speculated on the fall-out of these irregular permits; “properties occupied illegally, not covered by insurance, and some bought or sold unlawfully”. She quoted anonymous industry sources that believed the situation was “likely to have huge ramifications for the building industry” and questioned whether the structures had even been inspected in the first place.

The “revelations” surround the involvement of Geoffrey “John” Chambers, who worked for the private Cranbourne company, Casey Building Services. When their qualified surveyor left, due to a stroke, Mr Chambers allegedly signed the documents on behalf of the company, the problem is that building permits must be signed by a qualified building surveyor, which Mr Chambers is not.

If it is true, he leaves in his wake hundreds of invalid building permits for work ranging from spas, swimming pools and sheds through to extensions and new homes, not to mention the millions of dollars it is believed the Building Commission will have to fork out to fix the mess.

But don’t get on the phone to your lawyer just yet.

Discerning media consumers need to seek informed opinion before they become rattled by unnamed sources and puffed-up speculation from “industry insiders”. Realistically, your property is probably safe.

The article did report that that the Building Commission was taking steps to ensure that those involved would not be out-of-pocket or disadvantaged by the irregular permits.

What it failed to mention is that the Building Commission has made contact with the people involved with the 780 irregular permits they have uncovered during the investigation.

According to the Building Commission, Mr Chambers has been suspended for unprofessional conduct “pending an inquiry into his conduct” and has a date with the Building Practitioners Board.

And even if you are one of the unlucky homeowners, there is probably less to The Age inspired hubbub than their readers might think.

First, according to the Victorian Building Commissioner, Tony Arnel, who was interviewed by Daniel Hoare on ABC’s Radio National, during the investigation to date every property with “paperwork irregularities” inspected has met Australian building standards and there has been no indication that home owners should be concerned about the quality of the structures in question.

The problem should reside with the unsuspecting purchasers or vendors. That accountability should be shouldered by the council who issued the certificates during the sale process.

The planning certificates provided by the council are a legal verification that the structures on a property meet Australian building standards, and as such the council involved should accept the consequences should the permits prove to be invalid or incomplete.

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