Even simple dilapidation inspection could turn into a drama!

This week I was engaged for dilapidation inspection and report on a older dwelling that was next to major domestic development. Owners wisely decided that the condition of their home should be properly recorded so that if any damage occurs from adjoining developmentthey had evidence for compensation.

Dilapidation reports are straightforward and uneventful. It’s an inspection with lots of high resolution photos and a good mental picture in case I have to appear in dispute and give expert evidence. Report simply highlights any significant defects and the remainder of photos are stored on file for reference if required in the future. I have done many dilapidation reports for owners and developers alike, owners for their protection from damage caused by developer’s builders and developers from claims for pre existing damage they did not cause. Usually it is a walk in the park for me but here it turned out to be opening act of a drama.

Development site was cleared and fenced off (but without identification as required by regulation) Then I spotted lots of broken asbestos cement sheets on the ground. Even though I did not test the product I knew it originated prior to 1985 when use of Asbestos was banned in building products. To make the matters worse there was a fencing contractor with his two young sons working on site walking among broken Asbestos oblivious to the danger it posed. Owners too had no idea.

It seems that developer engaged cowboy demolition contractor to do the job ( the lowest price you see) and with no one checking (developer is too busy planning his profit to care) my clients, workers on site and neighbours were all exposed to dangers of airborne Asbestos dust.

I advised my clients to call the councila and WorkSAFE Victoria and report the matter as the site needed to be shut down and properly decontaminated.

There was another matter. My clients told me that a three metre deep excavation was to occur for car basement only a metre away from their boundary fence. I asked them if they were served with works protection notices. They weren’t. Ultimately it is relevant building surveyor that decides whether works protection notices are required but I would not necessarily trust their judgment because they can get too close to the builder.

I explained to the owners that there had been excavation collapses and that in my opinion the matter deserved a closer look and if building works were to start without notices to contact me for further advice.

So there you are, two significant issues have arisen, risk to health and a risk to property. My client is in good hands!

 

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About building inspectors and negligence

Below is my reprint from Homeone forum:
The first standard I quoted is for building inspections
Yes there is liability for negligence for any inspection that inspector does.
However you have got to remember that if there is significant defect during construction, builder is responsible whether it is discovered or not. So if your inspector misses a significant defect your builder still has to fix it and the measure of damage against inspector is your loss in him not picking it up earlier. Perhaps proper value of loss is refund of inspection fee but every case is different.

Lot of people misunderstand the nature of PI. It is not insurance against everything, its against negligence.
So if your inspector performed dilligent inspection but something is hidden from him its not negligence. If he should have looked under sub floor but did not its negligence.
Similarly if your inspector has given you a considered advice he may not be negligent if the advice turns out to be wrong or if it turns out that it could have been better.

Make sure your inspector has PI
Satisfy yourself about qualifications, experience, track record, equipment, references
If you want a cheap inspection dont complain you are sailing on a cheap boat.

 

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About experts, icebergs, ocean liners, and hot air balloons

When is expert not an expert? When is expert nothing more than a pretender? I will explain via analogy.

A true expert is someone with approved course of study and extensive experience, foremost in the field and among peers. Its a bit like a cruise liner, substantial tertiary qualifications above water line and matched by equally substantial experience below water line. A Titanic if you like.

I a recent VCAT case I was giving expert evidence and opposing expert had extensive and impressive building experience (a lot like mine) but no relevant tertiary qualifications. He was educated allright but how is a diploma in education relevant to building. So in my view he was an iceberg, substantial volume under water line but hardly anything on top.

In the dust up, my evidence prevailed, on this occasion iceberg melted away and Titanic safely delivered.

Then you have hot air balloons, pretenders that have very little of substance but behave as if they are the experts. They will offer you cheaper service, take your money ant tell you to find another bus when the going gets tough. Over the years I had many people come to me when the experts they engaged could not deliver. So what do you do?

Look carefully at relevant qualifications. How is an expert with no qualifications in building surveying going to interpret building legislation and standards? Without formal qualifications expert opinion is nothing more than inadmissible lay opinion.

Then look at track record

I am well aware of my own limitations, I am not an engineer and cannot have expert opinion on engineering matters, and I don’t.

Its important to know what you know, its even more important to know what you don’t.

If your expert is not upfront with qualifications and experience, keep walking.

If your expert has no track record, keep walking

Mission statement is no substitute for qualifications

 

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When is building variation not a variation

Recently I have been helping a couple with theit build with critical stage inspections. I did pre contract review, pre slab inspection, frame inspection and pre plaster inspection. It was plain and uneventfull sailing with the issues picked up during inspections attended by builder and resolved. And then it happened.

Builder constructed a large round stormwater pump and retention pit smack right in front entrance when in the drawings it was shown tucked away neatly on one side. Owners were furious complaining back to the builder. Builder at first ignored them the offered lame excuses, could not build pit right next to the side fence, too hard, we might have hit some rock and it would have been extra. The real story is that when the plumber came to site to install drainage pit, the location had large pipe of builder’s rubbish. So the plumber merely moved it across for his convenience. Builder arrogantly behaved as if they had right to change location of the pit (which incidentally was part of engineered drainage) as they like to their convenience and without owner’s consent.

But there was more. I then discovered that owners were served (unknown to me) with a post contract variation of 12K for the engineered stormwater draiange system. Not knowing better and without asking me they paid. I took one look at it and said Nah! This was not a variation as the stormwater system was already included in the contract.

I also advised owners that builder is not allowed to vary contract works wothout owner’s consent and in this case for his convenience.

I then composed email tha t owners sent to the builder

“I have reviewed your documentation and visited the site. I am able to confirm that the drainage installation is not nonconformant to the contract drawings.
I am able to confirm that variation does not comply with requirements of DBCA1995 and is therefore not valid
You should write to the builder and ask why is variation required and why was your consent not obtained beforehand”

And Voila!

Builder knew the game was up and immediately cancelled the variation and refunded 12K. Builder then arranged on site to construct decking and steps over entry and in front of the dwelling to owner’s design and satisfaction at builder’s cost.

Having your expert in the cloud whilst you build could save you more than money.

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Building Expert in the cloud, what’s that?

I have been helping people who are building with stage inspections at critical points for over a decade now but there is another major advantage. That is having your expert in the cloud looking down and looking after you. What does that mean? It means that if you have any questions or you seee anything on site you don’t like you can always ask and get an answer. That is certainly a lot more different than an inspector coming to site, emailing you a report and he is gone, his job is done.

I always say to my clients, I am your expert in the cloud and you are my foot soldier on the ground. Let me know what happens and I can help you. It works out to be a neat and productive partnership.

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Building Dispute Mediation – better than Hollywood

Building Disputes are not one of those things  you look forward to and as expert witness I go to many to assist my client during negotiations. What you see is financial tragedy of two parties embroiled in emotional blankets and it it’s usually all day stressful drudgery.

This one was much the same, my client a builder was in dispute with owner about substantial amount of money, the relationship destroyed it was heading to be ugly acrimonious venting of grievances. Owner was hell bent on bankrupting the builder to get to the insurance and brought his lawyer along and I wasn’t looking forward to what was to come.

Then mediator walked in and it was like on the set of “The Bold and The Beautiful”, a ringin for Dr Tyler Hayes (played by beautiful Hunter Tylo )

As someone with weakness for beautiful women that are also smart (I should know I have one) I knew I would be in for a visual feast at least but there was more to come.

As the day wore on I watched as she read the two adversaries with remarkable acumen and with deft timing working incredibly hard brought two immovable rocks closer together inch by inch. As the day was ending, fatigue set in and just at the right moment carrots were thrown in. This brought opportunity to get them a bit closer and then “Bang”. She smacked their heads together and the signatures were on the agreement. Well done Bravo.

My client was happy, he avoided the bankruptcy and could go on and make up his loss in a few months and put all this behind. I was happy because I was treated to a memorable performance and when she thanked me for my important contribution I left with a longer lasting smile.

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When do you tell the truth?

Some time ago I was in the office busy with some report writing when I overheard a call coming in from potential client requesting a building inspection. Our office manager went through the routine explaining what we do and asked about particular problems with caller’s property. Somehow  the conversation ended on the topic of truth between the parties and the caller asked if we always tell the truth. The answer of course was yes, always or at least whenever we can. The question was then put to he caller. His answer was

“Only when I have to” almost proudly.

Well, that told me a lot about the caller and the red flags went up. Some people are pathological liars and lying is their way of life.Worse still it is not the things they say but also the things that are withheld.

As someone who writes reports for a living I knew this caller would be a problem for me because essential element of my report is the veracity of information supplied by the client. I knew this was not a nice person, is potential trouble and I too could become a victim..

Making an eye contact, my office manager read my mind and politely told the caller that we would not be able to help him.

The best troubles are the ones you have the wisdom to avoid.

 

 

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Slab Heave Melbourne, Negligence goes on and on!

I am engaged for stage inspections for a new two storey residence in point Cook built by a volume builder. What many people do not realise is that spot inspection of critical points in construction is not the only purpose and benefit of stage inspections. There is also an opportunity to see whether builder is following his other obligations in relation to site drainage during construction. This is very important because of potential for foundation damage and slab heave due to poor drainage on reactive soil foundations such as this.

This is what I found during frame construction and after frame was completed

DSC_8091 DSC_8093 DSC_8489

 

DSC_93795 It is clear that builder has been catastrophically negligent in the construction of this home in breach of his warranties and the Australian and engineering standards. What did I say?

Recommendations:

 The builder’s site management of surface drainage is unsatisfactory and urgent attention is required.

 Builder is negligent in the matters of site drainage because foundation material has become flooded and may become damaged. Builder should be reported to VBA for failing to follow appropriate standards in regard to site drainage with a request that his conduct be inquired into.

So what happens now?

If foundation damage occurs there will be ample evidence on file including photos of builder’s negligence which will assist in any future proceedings.

How many times have I come across serious slab damage and when I ask owners for records and photos during construction, there is nothing. It makes it difficult to help them get repairs or compensation.

We provide expert building stage inspections at critical points in construction with monitoring of builder’s obligations in relation to site drainage and other matters.

Your call

For the best building inspection and advice call 03 9742 6121, we cover greater Melbourne area

 

 

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Dispute mediation- bring out your guns and win!

Some time ago I wrote about dispute mediation that left my client with less than satisfactory result http://www.buildingexpert.net.au/blog/dispute-mediation-bring-out-your-guns-or-else/

Recently however I was assisting another of my client’s in a dispute of virtually the same subject.

Fourth building owner was seeking compensation from owner builder for allegedly defective building works. The claim was for around 70K and owner had expert report prepared by a competent building consultant. The claim essentially was for building leaks, foundation movement, rot in weatherboards and external painting.

After my inspection I came to a conclusion in my report that owner’s claims could not be sustained.

Hearing was held and joint re inspection of property with testing was ordered by VCAT. After the re inspection I reported as follows:

  1. 1.     Summary of the opinion or opinions of the expert:

 a)    The inevitable conclusion following extensive flooding, pressure hose testing which failed to confirm any leaks and the flexible camera inspection that failed to find any damp spots is that the balcony is well constructed and weatherproofed and has withstood eight years of use and other natural severe weather events. Consequently the allegation of defective balcony waterproofing in my view is not proved and the claim for rectification works is untenable.

 b)    Dampness found on the lounge room ceiling in the location of the stain is not explained by alleged balcony leaks and is likely to be from other causes, perhaps related to render cracking caused by foundation movement as a result of lack of property maintenance (see lower photo on Page 8) or due to owner related alterations (installation of sunscreens). However it is not my intent to speculate other than to point out there are other possible and credible explanations unrelated to defective builder’s work. It is for the applicant to prove the defect and it is not done so.

 c)     Whilst it is confirmed that the ends of the weatherboards are not sealed (and yes they should have been) no rot whatsoever was found. Instead it was found that the rot corresponded to wall opening (from air conditioner installation) that allowed water entry and under gutter leak. The weatherboard rot was most prevalent on the western façade where exposure to weathering is the greatest. As a qualified and accredited timber pest inspector with over 5,000 property inspections I have no hesitation in declaring that the rot in weatherboards is caused by lack of paint coating maintenance and the lack of property maintenance. External paint coating longevity is min. 36 months that means that this property dilapidation is caused by approximately of five years of paint coating neglect.

 d)    Water ingress into the garage is alleged to be from defective workmanship but I have found render cracking over the offending area caused by foundation movement that in my opinion is the cause of water ingress. As this is due to property maintenance neglect the builder’s defective workmanship in my opinion is not proved.

 e)     It is incomprehensible that the crack to the rear wall is still the point of claim when clearly the offending downpipe causing structural damage is on the adjoining property.

 f)      After reinspecting this property, I have no reason to change my opinion on any of the matters and repeat my previous opinion:

 Owner who has not maintained property within occupancy permit conditions and who has not carried due diligence prior to purchase has complained of latent building defects on a property that has had successive owners and had other works carried out (other than the builder) by persons of unknown qualifications.

After inspecting the property I have considered all twelve claims and concluded that none could be proved as latent defects under builder’s warranty.” 

Faced with impossibility of proving the claim owner gave up and both parties walked away with minimal cost settlement.

My client was saved from a big payout to a predatory owner, however a reverse result could have easily been occurred had my client not been well prepared and well supported with expert report.

 

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Frame Inspection- there is more to it than you think!

Last Saturday I inspected a two storey house frame. It had already passed mandatory frame inspection and looked pretty good. I did not find any significant defects to report except that upper level Rumpus room had excessive bounce.

When I was walking it was shaking and then I remembered few years ago about a court case. In that case a house owner (it was a multi million dollar home) sued the builder because his chandeliers rattled when he was having his dinner and someone walked over the room above.

In this case you can just imagine kids jumping around in Rumpus room and the ceiling below bouncing.

I had a similar potential problem few years ago, building an upper storey extension, so what happened?

Well it seems that some modern building materials such as engineered timber beams have lower resistance to dynamic loading than hardwood. That is to say that even if on paper they pass all the requirements of static loading design (strength and deflection) they will bounce around.

The real expertise is about what to do. How do you fix it? This is where experience comes into it and I have recommended two stage fix.

The first stage was to improve stiffening and bracing followed by re inspection to see if that did the trick. There was actually a very good chance that this inexpensive fix would be all that was required.

If not then selective insertion of additional structural members in the right locations and the trick is what and where.

The good thing is that at this frame stage owner had the opportunity to fix his floor at the time where it was easy and relatively inexpensive.

The message of this story is that you can have your house built and everything passes mandatory inspections and it will still be wrong and you won’t know until it’s to late or too expensive to fix.

This is where depth of inspection experience can help you avoid construction problems.

 

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