Building dispute resolution centre not in the business of resolving disputes lately

Building dispute resolution centre not in the business of resolving disputes lately
Tom Bacon

Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) was set up by the state government to provide homeowners with access to a free service to resolve building disputes without having to first go to the courts or tribunals and endure the high costs and long-time frames associated with those jurisdictions.

However, just like a number of other government departments that have suffered from a staff cleanout and pay freezes in recent years, the DBDRV is struggling with its caseload and a shortage of qualified conciliators to perform the role.

The conciliation model which the DBDRV uses is most effective: once an application is lodged by a homeowner or owners’ corporation (OC) in respect of building defects, a case officer will contact the builder against whom the complaint is made and conduct their own enquiries about whether a negotiated solution could resolve the issues.

Once an opportunity has been made for site visits, testing and experts to provide reports, the DBDRV will appoint a conciliator and will host a conciliation to hear the dispute and engage in a structured round of settlement discussions with the aim of resolving the dispute with a simple written agreement, usually for the builder to return to site and carry out repairs.

If no resolution has been reached, then a certificate gets issued by the DBDRV which allows either party to then file a claim in a court or tribunal.

Certainly, for many OCs, it is exceedingly difficult to pass a resolution (51 per cent of lot owners) or a special resolution (75 per cent of lot owners) to file legal proceedings. This is required under the Owners Corporation Act 2006. For a building of more than 200 apartments, it is almost impossible to pass these resolutions.

Over the past 24 months, the DBDRV has increasingly decided not to accept applications from OCs and have instead elected simply to provide them with a certificate of conciliation to allow the OC to file at court or VCAT.

The justifications for doing so are often spurious – sometimes the answer will be that the matter looks complicated, or costly. Other times the DBRV will say that a Council Building Notice complicates the process of conciliation.

In truth, none are proper justifications for the DBDRV failing to do its job, which is to attempt to resolve a building dispute. It doesn’t matter if it is too hard, or too expensive or too technical. It doesn’t matter if it involves cladding, or other complex weatherproofing and structural elements of the building. There is rarely a building dispute that is not technical.

The plain reality of the matter is that for many homeowners, the DBDRV’s practice of closing its file without attempting resolution is blocking access to resolving disputes by failing to enforce the builder to conciliate and negotiate.

This is forcing OCs to instead engage in the tribunal and court processes which are incredibly expensive and time consuming (two years at least to get a hearing date).

Pretty ironic, and pretty poor form from a department whose sole purpose and role is to conciliate and resolve disputes. •

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