Clean up, repairs and re-building – disaster advice

We have advice to help with clean up, repairs and building issues in a disaster, such as a storm, flood, bushfire or earthquake.

On this page:

Beware of travelling con men

Travelling con men are turning up as tradesmen and demanding cash up front for repairs or cleaning services. Others claim to help organising access to government grants.

If you take up such offers, you run the risk of:

  • substandard work
  • being left out of pocket if the trader disappears before finishing the job
  • being unable to contact the trader once they have been paid
  • paying more to have a legitimate tradesperson repair shoddy work.

You should also be wary of anyone offering you a ‘government grant’ for assistance, or demanding your bank account details.

Your local council or relief centre can provide information about your entitlement to genuine government assistance.

If you suspect travelling con men in your area, call the national hotline: 1300 133 408.

For more information, view our Travelling con men page.

Repairs

Before you employ a tradesperson to do repair work:

  • contact your insurer first, to check your policy and find out whether you are covered
  • ask around for suitable tradespeople
  • check their credentials
  • get quotes
  • do not pay in full up front
  • avoid tradespeople who give only mobile numbers and first names. You may not be able to contact them if there is a problem 
  • be wary of door-to-door offers - get proof that the tradesperson is making the offer legally and appropriately
  • check with your local council whether a building permit or other approval is needed.

Ask for a tradesperson's full name and registration or licence details so you can check these with their industry authority. We can direct you to the appropriate organisation.

For trades that do not require a licence or registration, ask the tradesperson for their membership number of their professional association. Members of such organisations are generally required to satisfy the association’s membership criteria, which usually includes insurance and working to professional codes of ethics.

Special laws for emergency repairs

Businesses can approach consumers and supply urgent goods and services after a natural disaster in some circumstances, without complying with all unsolicited sales requirements – for example, door-to-door sales requirements.

These emergency repair contracts can be used when:

  • a state of emergency has been declared for your area and the contract is only for repairs required by the disaster
  • the supplier doing the work has a relevant state, territory or national licence to do the work - for example, a building or contractor's licence 
  • the repairs are only to:
    • rectify a hazard or potential hazard on your property
    • protect the health and safety of people on the property
    • prevent substantial damage to your property.

In such cases, the business:

  • does not have to give or notify the consumer of the 10-business-day cooling off period
  • can provide the goods or services under the contract and accept payment within 10 business days.

A business must not call on a consumer:

  • before 9:00 am or after 6:00 pm, Monday to Friday
  • before 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm on Saturday
  • on a Sunday or public holiday.

Building

Before you re-build

If you have a home insurance policy and know who the insurer is, contact them as soon as possible.

If you are not sure which insurer your policy is with, or you don’t have a copy of your insurance documents, contact the Insurance Council on 1300 728 228.

When you are ready to consider rebuilding all or part of your property, contact us for information about:

  • finding and choosing a registered builder
  • building contracts
  • working with a tradesman or builder
  • help with disputes.

Damage to building or renovating work that has started

Talk to your builder - their general construction insurance may cover it.

If you have lost your contract documents, contact your builder and ask for another copy. Contact us if there is any problem obtaining a copy of your contract.

Talk to your insurer or the Insurance Council by phoning 1300 728 228.

Consider the impact of any change to official flood levels on your building or renovating plans (see Changes to official flood levels below).

Making changes to a building contract after the work has started

Talk to your building surveyor about additional permits that may be necessary and any requirements due to a change in official flood levels (see below). The contact information for your building surveyor is on your building permit. You can obtain a copy of your building permit from your local council if yours has been destroyed.

Contact the Victorian Building Authority on 1300 815 127 to find out about building control requirements, including changes to planning or building permits.

Talk to your builder about the changes required or any changes you are considering.

Ask your builder to clarify the impact of these changes in writing.

Farm sheds

Farm sheds and sheds for keeping equipment, hay and animals are not covered under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. If you are engaging someone to build a farm shed for you, be sure you have a signed and dated contract that:

  • includes detailed descriptions and specifications of the work to be done
  • states the start and finish dates or the number of work days required
  • states an agreed price for the work 
  • only agrees to make payment at the conclusion of works; or if you are paying by instalments, only paying for work already done
  • does not include any illegal terms or unfair conditions.

Sheds used as garages and workshops

Sheds built as garages, carports and workshops are covered under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995.

By law, if the building work costs more than $5000:

  • you must have a written major domestic building contract
  • the contract must include a fixed price for all work to be completed
  • your builder must be registered with the Building Practitioners Board.

Domestic building insurance:

  • must be taken out by your builder if the cost exceeds $16,000
  • protects you if your builder dies, becomes insolvent or disappears prior to the completion of the work, or during the period of any standard or implied warranty.

Do not sign the contract before checking:

  • the builder is registered with the Building Practitioners Board
  • the domestic building insurance policy
  • the procedure for changing the plans and specifications
  • you’ve only agreed to pay progress payments for work already completed
  • you’ve had enough time to thoroughly check the contract.

Private bushfire shelters

Private bushfire shelters require a building permit signed off by a building surveyor, who will only approve them if they meet strict design specifications set out in the Building Regulations.

These regulations define specific requirements for such shelters, including:

  • safe access
  • a means of assessing outside conditions and identifying the shelters for rescuers.

The shelter must be separate from the residence and design and construction must take into account the:

  • number of people likely to use it
  • potential external fire intensity
  • estimated period of time a fire front would take to pass.

To meet building standards, a private bushfire shelter must:

  • have a building permit
  • be designed and constructed by a fire safety engineer.

For further information on building requirements, visit the Victorian Building Authority website or talk to your local council building surveyor.

The Country Fire Authority advocates leaving early as the safest way to survive a bushfire. Private bushfire shelters should only be considered as part of a back-up plan.

For more information on planning and preparing, plus up-to-date warnings and restrictions, visit the Country Fire Authority website.

Changes to official flood levels

If you intend to build or extend, you need a building permit from your local council. Usually, if you live in a flood risk area, this permit will require the floor of your building to be 300 mm above the official flood level (as well as other safety requirements).

The recent floods may have changed the official flood level in your area.

If you already have a building permit, you may wish to consider the impact of the new flood levels on your property.

Need more help?

Contact us.

Last updated: 17/10/2016

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