Building disputes, defects and delays

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Resolving building disputes

If a dispute arises between you and your builder, take the following steps to resolve it.

Note: If you are a builder, please view Resolving building disputes.

Step 1: Try to resolve the dispute yourself by discussing the issue with your builder. Keep copies of all relevant documents (for example, contracts, invoices and written communications).

You should also consider:

  • keeping a record of all conversations you have had with your builder
  • taking photographs of work that is the subject of your dispute.

Step 2: If you cannot resolve the problem by speaking to the builder directly, send them a letter or email, formally outlining the issue and requesting a response.

By putting your concerns in writing, you will have a record of your discussions. This can be shown to a third party if you choose to take your complaint further later on, and demonstrates that you made a reasonable attempt to resolve the problem yourself.

You should use registered mail if you are sending your correspondence by post.

You can use our Example letter for an issue regarding building work (Word, 50.5 KB).

Step 3: If you do not receive a response from your builder within a reasonable timeframe, and are unable to resolve the dispute yourself, you can lodge an online application for dispute resolution through Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV).

Important note: Your dispute may not be eligible if you have directly engaged only one trade (for example, plumbing or painting) and the work is not part of more extensive domestic building work.

Make sure you check your eligibility for DBDRV before starting your application. For more information on eligibility and how to lodge an application, visit Is our service right for you? - DBDRV.

DBDRV can resolve building disputes without the cost and time often associated with courts and tribunals, and has the power to issue dispute resolution orders to resolve disputes that are not completely resolved by agreement. DBDRV is equally accessible to building owners and builders.

If you need further advice about your options to resolve a building issue, contact us using our General enquiry online form.

Domestic Building Legal Service

If your building dispute remains unresolved after going through the DBDRV process, you may be eligible for assistance from the Domestic Building Legal Service (DBLS).

DBLS is a free service run by Justice Connect, an independent not-for-profit legal organisation, with the help of pro bono lawyers. The service is funded by the Victorian Government.

Access to DBLS assistance is limited to home owners who:

  • have first attempted to resolve their domestic building dispute through DBDRV (or whose matter was assessed as unsuitable for conciliation); and
  • are considered to be in special need of assistance due to financial stress arising from the dispute or other relevant circumstances.

DBLS can provide:

  • tailored information and advice regarding your building dispute, if it remains unresolved after completing the DBDRV process
  • advice on the merit of your case and chances of success at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
  • advice on VCAT's processes and procedures to help you prepare for a hearing
  • assistance in enforcing a VCAT order.

For more information about getting help from DBLS, visit DBLS - Justice Connect.

Disputes with home improvement work (renovations)

Home repair and renovation services are covered by consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law. The guarantees set out when you have a right to a repair, refund or other compensation if there is a problem with a service. For more information, view Problems with a service.

Delays in building projects

Whether you are building a new house, adding an extension to your home, or renovating your bathroom or kitchen, you may need assistance to calculate whether the project is delayed.

About the start date

You will need to know the start date of the building period. By law, a domestic building contract for work valued at more than $10,000 must contain either:

  • the date work is to start
  • how the start date will be determined (for example, 21 days from obtaining the building permit). If the date is not specified, the contract must also include a statement that the builder will do everything reasonably possible to ensure work will start as soon as possible.

The contract may also state whether you had to supply any information for the project to start (for example, financial approval or 'evidence of financial capacity').

The 'start date' does not necessarily refer to the date construction begins on your site. For example:

  • under your contract, your builder may be obtaining the building and planning permits for you.
  • your contract may say the start date is 21 days after the builder gets the last permit.

Allowances for delays in your contract

By law, the builder must make a reasonable allowance for delays due to:

  • inclement weather, taking into account the season when work will be carried out
  • foreseeable factors, such as:
    • public holidays, rostered days off and weekends
    • breaks in continuity of work (for example, time to let the slab cure)
    • other delays due to the nature of the work.

The builder must state in your contract how many days have been allowed for each type of delay. This is outlined in section 32 of the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995.

If it is not possible to estimate how long a delay is likely to be, the builder must identify the cause of delay in the contract and state that it is not possible to estimate. This is to make sure everyone involved is clear about what may delay the project.

Reasonable delays

Delays may be reasonable if:

  • they arise from circumstances beyond the builder's control
  • the builder could not have foreseen the cause of delay when you entered the building contract.

Delays due to foundation issues

You should not have to pay extra to deal with problems that the builder should have identified from the foundation data. For more information, view Foundations.

Suspension of the builder’s registration

If the Victorian Building Authority suspends a builder’s registration, building permits in their name are automatically suspended. All work on their building projects must cease immediately. If the builder remains in business, you can take any dispute about the delay to DBDRV, then potentially to VCAT. If the builder becomes insolvent, you can make a claim on their domestic building insurance.

Changes in contract price

If you are concerned about being charged for additional work, discuss the issue with your builder and request a breakdown of costs.

If you do not get a satisfactory response, contact us using our General enquiry online form.

Changes to a contract price can include variations to the plans and specifications, prime costs and provisional sums. For more information, view Changing a major domestic building contract checklist.

Fence disputes

We do not handle disputes between neighbours, including disagreements about boundary fences.

If one neighbour wants to build or replace a fence, they should give the other party a written notice which states the type of fence to be built and its proposed location. You should all meet to discuss the matter.

If you have difficulty reaching an agreement about building a fence, you can contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV). If you need further assistance, you may need to seek an order from the Magistrates' Court.

Building fences is governed by the Fences Act 1968, which you can find at Victorian Legislation.

Help with your building project: our self-help tool

We recommend using our self-assessment building tool for your project, to help you understand aspects of the building process, including: