Problems and complaints

There are many different things that can go wrong during building and plumbing projects, such as misunderstandings between property owners and builders or plumbers, contractual disputes, or work that doesn't comply with building legislation.

Depending on the nature of your problem, there are different organisations who can help you with your issue. For example:

  • Your local council
    Your council can help with planning issues or urgent safety issues relating to building work.
  • Your relevant building surveyor (RBS)
    Your surveyor can help ensure your plans and the building work comply with building laws and regulations.
  • Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)
    CAV administers the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. They provide free and impartial advice to property owners and tradespeople on their rights and responsibilities when building or renovating. Call their Building Information Line on 1300 55 75 59 between 9 am and 5 pm Monday to Friday (except public holidays).
  • Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)
    The DBDRV is a free government service designed to help building owners and builders resolve residential building disputes.
  • WorkSafe
    Worksafe can help with concerns about unsafe building sites.
  • Energy Safe Victoria
    ESV can help with concerns about gas or electricity safety.

Problems can often be resolved by having a reasonable discussion your builder, plumber or building surveyor.

What is the VBA's role?

As regulator of the building and plumbing industries, the VBA can deal with complaints relating to breaches and offences of legislation such as the Building Act 1993 (the Act), the Building Regulations 2018 (Building Regulations) and the Plumbing Regulations 2018 (Plumbing Regulations).

We are concerned with:

  • the achievement of compliance with relevant building and plumbing legislation
  • the conduct of building and plumbing practitioners
  • illegal building and plumbing work from unregistered or unlicensed practitioners.

Common problems and who can help

Select the relevant problem below to find out who to contact for help.

I have a concern about a building matter

I have a dispute about a building contract

The Building Information Line provides free advice and information that can help you resolve a dispute about a domestic building contract. Call 1300 55 75 59 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday (except public holidays).

If you are unable to resolve the dispute yourself, you can visit the DBDRV website to lodge an online application for dispute resolution. DBDRV has the power to investigate contractual disputes between consumers and builders. They can resolve building disputes without the cost and time often associated with courts and tribunals, and have the power to issue legally binding dispute resolution orders and certificates.

The VBA is unable to assess a complaint about a practitioner while a matter is being considered by DBDRV. If there are matters within the VBA’s jurisdiction, we may progress a complaint against a practitioner once DBDRV has completed its process and a complaint has been formally lodged with us.

Speak to your RBS. The RBS can issue a Direction to Fix if building work is non-compliant. This is issued to the builder. Your RBS is listed on your building permit.

The RBS can also take enforcement action by issuing notices and orders if non-compliant work is identified. These are issued to the property owner who needs to address the Notice or Order.

The Building Information Line provides free advice and information that can help you resolve a dispute about domestic building work. Call 1300 55 75 59 between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm Monday to Friday (except public holidays).

If you are unable to resolve the dispute yourself, you can visit the DBDRV website to lodge an online application for dispute resolution. DBDRV can resolve building disputes without the cost and time often associated with courts and tribunals, and they have the power to issue legally binding dispute resolution orders and certificates.

The VBA is unable to assess a complaint about a practitioner while a matter is being considered by DBDRV. If there are matters within the VBA's jurisdiction, we may progress a complaint against a practitioner once DBDRV has completed its process and a complaint has been formally lodged with us.

Non-compliant building work relates to work that contravenes the regulatory requirements of the Building Act 1993 and the Building Regulations. Examples of non-compliant building work include:

  • building work that has not been constructed in accordance with the building permit
  • a building permit that is not in accordance with the Act and the the Building Regulations.

Where your concerns relate to non-compliant building work, the VBA will do the following:

  • carry out an assessment of the evidence presented to substantiate non-compliance
  • consider any actions required by the relevant building surveyor or municipal building surveyor to bring work into compliance
  • assess the conduct of the relevant building practitioners in relation to non-compliant building work.

A registered building practitioner must perform his or her work as a building practitioner in a competent manner and to a professional standard, in line with the regulatory requirements of the Act and the Building Regulations.

Where your concerns relate to the conduct of a practitioner, the VBA can:

  • make an assessment of breaches and offences of the building legislation
  • make a decision on the appropriate course of action to take.

You must be registered with the VBA in Victoria to:

  • perform domestic building work that costs more than $10,000 (including labour and materials)
  • provide more than one type of building work (such as plastering and painting) that costs more than $10,000 (including labour and materials).

There are different requirements for owner-builders.

Where your concerns relate to unregistered building work, the VBA can assess whether the complaint is substantiated, and the appropriate course of action to take.

As the property owner, if you want to change a private building surveyor after you have appointed them, you need to obtain consent from the VBA to terminate the appointment before another building surveyor can be appointed.

See Ending the employment of a private building surveyor for more information on the circumstances and options available.

Note that your arrangement with your current building surveyor will continue until we advise you of the outcome.

I have a concern about a plumbing matter

Non-compliant or defective plumbing work relates to work that contravenes the regulatory requirements of the relevant plumbing standards, codes and regulations.

Where your concerns relate to non-compliant/defective work, and there is sufficient evidence to support the claim, the VBA can assist with the following:

  • liaising with the licensed plumber to rectify substantiated non-compliant plumbing work and resolve the complaint
  • taking the necessary action required where a licensed plumber fails to respond.

The VBA can only assist where the work was carried out by a licensed plumber, the identity of the licensed plumber can be determined, and the work was completed within the last ten years.

If the work was carried out by an unlicensed person, we may be able to prosecute if there is sufficient evidence, but we cannot assist in rectification.

Plumbing work that is listed on a compliance certificate is covered by the licensed plumber’s insurance for a period of six years. If you wish to seek compensation for non-compliant/defective plumbing work through the initial plumber's insurer, you will need to obtain sufficient evidence that the installation was non-compliant.

Please note: The VBA holds no responsibility for the decision of the insurance company. Any disagreement will not be arbitrated by the VBA and may require you to seek a determination from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

A compliance certificate is issued by a licensed plumber to certify that the work they do complies with the relevant plumbing standards, codes and regulations.

In Victoria, compliance certificates must be issued to the person who requested the plumbing work upon completion of the work, if the cost exceeds $750. Some types of plumbing work require a compliance certificate, regardless of the total cost, such as gas work.

Your plumber must provide you with a signed compliance certificate within five days of the plumbing work being completed. Your plumber must also lodge details of the compliance certificate with the VBA within that timeframe.

Please note: Where work is incomplete, you will first need to send a written request for the compliance certificate to the licensed plumber and provide a copy of your request to the VBA.

Where you have concerns regarding a compliance certificate, the VBA can assist by:

  • liaising with the licensed plumber to obtain the compliance certificate
  • taking the necessary enforcement action where required.

A plumbing practitioner needs to be registered or licensed in each class of plumbing work that they intend to do. Victoria's Plumbing Regulations define ten main classes of plumbing work:

  1. Drainage
  2. Fire Protection
  3. Gasfitting
  4. Irrigation (Non-agricultural)
  5. Mechanical Services
  6. Refrigerated Air-conditioning
  7. Roofing (Stormwater)
  8. Sanitary
  9. Type B Gasfitting
  10. Water Supply

The VBA must have substantive evidence of the work carried out by the unlicensed/unregistered plumber in order to pursue the matter. In particular, we need the identity of the person and evidence they undertook the work.

Where your concerns relate to unregistered or unlicensed plumbing work, the matter may be investigated by the VBA, particularly where the work was substantial or complex.

The VBA cannot assist in rectification of illegal plumbing work that was not performed by a registered/licensed person. Our ability to prosecute is subject to a three-year statute of limitations.

I am worried about a safety issue

If there is a potential life safety issue in relation to building work that requires urgent action, please call the relevant council.

The council's municipal building surveyor can:

  • inspect urgent issues and stop works
  • issue emergency orders
  • take enforcement action.

You can also lodge a complaint regarding the conduct of a building practitioner in relation to a life safety issue. Examples of life safety issues within the VBA's jurisdiction include:

Fire safety issues

  • Non-compliance with fire safety requirements
  • Product used in a non-compliant application
  • Use of non-compliant products

Bushfire assessment issues

  • Building work not in accordance with the Bushfire Assessment report

Swimming pool safety issues

  • Non-compliant swimming pool barriers
  • A lapsed swimming pool permit

Protection work/site cut issues

  • Site cuts that compromise the safety of the adjoining property
  • Site cuts that have a significant depth and don't have the appropriate protection work

Balustrade or balcony issues

  • Non-compliance or defective construction of a balcony or balustrade

Possible wall collapse

  • Unsafe or suspect walls that have the potential to collapse

However, the above life safety issues should all be dealt with in the first instance by the council’s MBS or the RBS.

If there is a potential life safety issue in relation to plumbing work, please call the VBA on 1300 815 127 .

Examples of life safety issues within the VBA's jurisdiction include:

  • gas leaks
  • sewer spills
  • carbon monoxide.

Our first action will be to ensure that safety is addressed, and the rectification or other actions required will follow our normal processes. Safety actions may include shutting off gas or disabling appliances.

If there is a life safety issue and/or urgent rectification is required, and you are unable to make contact with the VBA or the licensed plumber, you may choose to engage another plumber to complete the rectification work.

If you wish to seek compensation for non-compliant plumbing work through the initial plumber's insurer, you will need to obtain evidence that the installation was non-compliant by obtaining clear photographs and a detailed written report from the plumber who does the rectification.

Please note: The VBA holds no responsibility for the decision of the insurance company. Any disagreement will not be arbitrated by the VBA and may require you to seek a determination from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

If your concerns relate to matters such as an unsafe construction site, you can contact WorkSafe Victoria on 1800 136 089 or www.worksafe.vic.gov.au. Worksafe enforces Victoria's occupational health and safety laws, which includes maintaining building and construction workplaces in a safe and healthy condition.

Similarly, where your matter relates to concerns about asbestos, we advise you to contact Worksafe Victoria to discuss the matter further. You might also find useful information at www.asbestos.vic.gov.au. The information on that site has been made available by WorkSafe Victoria, the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) and the Department of Health.

WorkSafe may also refer matters to the VBA at the conclusion of their enquiries, and the VBA may consider the outcome of a Worksafe investigation in relation to the conduct of a registered building practitioner.

I have a concern about building work on an adjoining property (e.g. siting or protection work)

The RBS should ensure that an application for a building permit provides sufficient information to determine that the application complies with the Building Regulations. Examples of matters that fall within this area include:

  • minimum street setbacks
  • building height
  • side and rear setbacks
  • front fence height
  • overshadowing and overlooking.

If you are the owner of the adjoining property, you can contact the RBS. The RBS contact details are usually on the building work sign on the property where the works are being done.

Note: if there is a planning permit containing siting requirements, any complaints should be directed to the Planning Department of the relevant Council.

If you still have concerns about siting, and evidence to show a non-compliance with the legislation, the VBA can assist by:

  • checking whether the building permit complies with the Building Regulations
  • assessing building plans to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations
  • assessing the as-built conditions to ensure compliance with the building permit
  • assessing the conduct of a practitioner to determine if further investigation is required.

An owner who is proposing building work has obligations under the the Act to protect adjoining properties from potential damage from their building work.

If building work is close to, or adjacent to adjoining property boundaries, then an owner may be required to carry out protection work in respect of that adjoining property. This is to ensure that the adjoining property is not affected or damaged by the proposed building work. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • underpinning adjoining property footings, including vertical support, lateral support, protection against variation in earth pressures, ground anchors, and other means of support for the adjoining property
  • shoring up of the adjoining property
  • overhead protection for the adjoining property
  • other work designed to maintain the stability of the adjoining property from damage from building work.

If you are the owner of the adjoining property and have concerns, contact the RBS. You can normally find RBS contact details on the building work sign on the property where the works are being done.

If you are still concerned about the protection work, the VBA can assist with your matter. The VBA may make an assessment into whether:

  • protection work has been included in the building permit
  • the proper process has been followed
  • whether the complainant should refer the matter to the Building Appeals Board (BAB).

Other issues and concerns

If you are seeking financial compensation from a building practitioner, licensed or unlicensed plumber or an adjoining owner, you may need to obtain legal advice and take civil action. The VBA cannot award financial compensation or direct a building practitioner to provide financial compensation.

If you have a dispute regarding the construction of a boundary fence or the common boundary fence has been removed and damage caused to your property, contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria on 1300 372 888 or www.disputes.vic.gov.au to discuss the avenues available to you.

If you believe that part or parts of the adjoining allotment encroach onto your property, this is a civil dispute between yourself and your neighbour. It is advised that you seek legal advice as a solicitor would be best placed to advise you on the appropriate course of action required to recover any costs or damages.

If your concerns relate to criminal matters such as fraud, violence or trespass, you should contact the Victorian Police to discuss your avenues further.

If you have concerns regarding planning matters or building work that is subject to a planning permit, contact the relevant local council.

If you have concerns regarding environmental matters such as noise from building work, hazards, traffic issues from building work, or dust and rubbish, these may be regulated by council by-laws. You can contact the council to discuss the avenues available to you.

You may also wish to seek advice from the Environment Protection Authority Victoria, which is the environmental regulator. Call 1300 372 842.

If you have any queries or concerns regarding domestic building insurance (DBI) matters, you should contact the insurer who has issued the DBI to the registered builder.

For your information, to be registered as a domestic builder, a builder must only provide the VBA with a letter of eligibility from their insurer. This is not evidence that the builder has taken out the requisite insurance. As a homeowner, if you engage a builder to provide you with more than $16,000 of domestic building work, then you will need to satisfy yourself that the builder has taken out a DBI insurance policy to cover that work.

DBI provides some protection to homeowners in the event that their building project cannot be completed or the building work is defective and cannot be rectified because the builder has:

  • died, disappeared or become insolvent
  • failed to comply with a Tribunal or Court Order where DBI was issued on or after 1 July 2015.

For further information on the requirements that any DBI policy taken out by a domestic builder must meet, see Domestic Building Insurance Ministerial Order (23 May 2003) (PDF, 1507.51 KB).

If you have a dispute with a building practitioner that is currently at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) the VBA will generally not make an assessment until the action at VCAT is finalised.

This is because of the following:

  • The outcome of a dispute at VCAT may become relevant in the VBA's assessment of practitioner conduct.
  • If the complaint is progressed to an investigation, witness statements need to be taken at the conclusion of the dispute at VCAT to capture the totality of the complaint.
  • VCAT outcomes often require parties to sign a confidentiality clause, which may prevent a complainant from providing the witness statement that would be necessary for a successful investigation.

If you have a dispute with a building practitioner that is currently at DBDRV, the VBA will generally not make an assessment until the action is finalised. This is because:

  • The involvement of the VBA may reduce the chances of a successful conciliation.
  • The outcome of the dispute at DBDRV may become relevant evidence in the VBA's assessment of practitioner conduct.
  • If the matter is not successfully conciliated, the dispute may be referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

The VBA will not make an assessment on a matter at VCAT until it is concluded.

Problems that the VBA can assist with

We deal with the following building complaints:

  • building work that does not comply with the Building Act 1993, Building Regulations 2018, and Building Codes and Australian Standards.
  • concerns about potential breaches and offences of building legislation by building practitioners
  • concerns by an adjoining owner in relation to the protection of their property (PDF, 634.23 KB) where building work has commenced or is due to commence
  • concerns by an adjoining owner in relation to completed building work, which might affect their privacy or access to daylight due to height, building setback or overlooking. In some cases this may be a local council responsibility, but we can assist you to determine if you need to contact Council
  • incidents of an unregistered person carrying out building work or saying they are registered when they are not.

We deal with the following plumbing complaints :

  • plumbing work that does not comply with the Building Act 1993, Plumbing Regulations 2018 or Australian standards
  • a plumbing compliance certificate has not been issued or is incorrect
  • incidents of an unregistered or unlicensed person carrying out plumbing work.

We encourage you to contact the licensed plumber to explain your complaint and give them an opportunity to address it. The licensed plumber's response to your request will form part of any complaint assessment.

In some instances, the plumber who carried out the work is different to the licensed plumber who signed a compliance certificate. The licensed plumber who signed the compliance certificate is always responsible for the work carried out.

If there is no information that a specific plumber carried out plumbing work (no compliance certificate, contract or invoice etc.), we cannot enforce legislation.

Please note that we adopt an evidence-based approach when it comes to investigating plumbers or building industry professionals. This means that if you want to make a complaint, you should have evidence to support your claims.