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The hidden risks of not getting building compliance reports

Compliance of the buildings located on a property is often not considered by buyers when they are looking to buy a residential property. Unknowingly buyers regularly buy properties where the structures are unapproved and often poorly constructed. Even when they are well constructed if they are not approved they are essentially illegal structures if they outside guidelines.

fig1_01fig2_01There can be significant ramifications of buying a property that has unapproved structures, and a classic example is a large deck that has been attached to the rear of a dwelling and has been inadequately supported and secured. If this poorly constructed deck collapses during a party, the owner is likely to find their building insurance policy will not cover the damage or the subsequent lawsuits from the injured party goers as the structure was not approved.

It is really easy for a purchaser to be caught out when buying as they are advised by many parties in the process that all is ok, and those parties genuinely believe all is ok. The seller and or agent advise the buyer that council was out a few years back and issued a certificate for all the structures at the property. The reality is that what was issued is a Building Certificate or s149D,and this was issued ten years earlier.

fig3_01A Building Certificate is not full approval and is merely council assessing the property for major issues such as unsafe structures and stating that they do not have an issue with what has been constructed. And that they will not seek orders to have any structures altered or demolished. There is a catch,however, and that is the certificates have a lifespan of only seven years after which time a new application needs to be made to the local council for an updated certificate.Many changes may have occurred in the ten years since the Building Certificate was issued.

fig4_01The other false sense of security will often stem from the buyers solicitor sending a letter to the council and requesting a building file report. Council will diligently review the building file and provide a written report which outlines all the details of Development Application (DAs), Building Applications (BAs), Building Permits and Final Certificates,etc. issued for structures at the property. The issue that arises in this situation is the information council has on file is only the “known items” that are registered with the council and not the unknown structures or modifications.Yes, a deck may have been approved and all the requisite inspections and paperwork issued by the council; however since council issued the Final Certificate 3 years ago, the owner demolished that deck and constructed a new, bigger deck higher off the ground.

fig5_02The concern for buyers is that ultimately they may not be getting what they are paying for if they do not check out a building file properly. The risks of not having the full picture are many and varied but can result in loss of value of the property, buildings not being covered by an insurance policy and worse still personal injury for an owner or occupant due to a poorly constructed and non-compliant structure that exists at a property.

fig6_02The governing authority and local rules can vary from state to state and even from Council to Council so this can be a bit of a minefield. In my opinion, a buyer should always obtain a building compliance report when they are purchasing to avoid those hidden and often costly surprises. It is vital that any report includes an onsite assessment to compare what exists on the property with what is recorded on file at Council.

You will find many pre-purchase inspectors will not carry out compliance inspections as they are not experienced or qualified enough to assess for compliance. At a bare minimum a buyer should take a look at the council file themselves to get some understanding of what is and what is not approved; however ideally they should engage a qualified and experienced consultant to assist them with this process.

Bruce Cohen
Technical Director
Surety Property

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