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How to prevent this

By law, building contracts worth $10,000 or more must state:

  • The date the work will start, or how that date is to be determined, e.g., 21 days from the building permit being obtained. If the date is not known, the contract must also include a statement that the builder will do everything reasonably possible to ensure work will start as soon as possible
  • Any allowances for delays, e.g., bad weather, public holidays, and weekends. The contract must set out how many days have been allowed for each type of delay
  • A finish date or if the starting date is not yet known, the number of days that will be required to finish the work once it is started.

Don’t sign a building contract unless this information has been included, regardless of the cost. Consider engaging a lawyer to review the contract before signing, but remember that doing this means you are no longer entitled to a cooling off period after signing.

For more information about contracts, see Agreements and contracts.

Be aware that permits have time limits

If your project needs a building or planning permit, the building work must begin within:

  • 1 year of the building permit being issued
  • 2 years of the planning permit being issued

You should apply for an extension before a permit expires. Extensions for building permits are granted by your building surveyor and extensions for planning permits are granted by your local council.

Make sure you apply for an extension well ahead of lapse date as it can take some time for an extension to be granted. Missing this date means you will have to apply for a new permit and pay application fees again. There’s also no guarantee a new permit will be granted.

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Find out what the cause of the delay is

Speak to your building surveyor first to find out about the project’s progress before you talk to your builder. If you have someone overseeing the project, get them to speak to the builder for you and find out the reason for the delay.

Contracts make allowances for reasonable delays. Circumstances that are not within the builder’s control and that could not be foreseen by them at the time the contract was signed, such as material or skilled labour shortages or illness would generally not be considered for breaches of contract.

An extended delay caused solely by the builder and that is within their control may be a breach of the terms of the contract.
Consider if you have contributed to delays and make allowances for this. Did you change something in the project, forget to advise them of details they relied on (colours, finishes) or fail to supply them with the measurements for appliances?

What you can do if the builder has caused a delay

Always talk to your builder and give them an opportunity to fix the issue before lodging a formal complaint or dispute. See Resolve disputes to understand the process for resolving disputes.

You may end a major domestic building contract if the work has not been completed within 1.5 times the construction period stated in the contract and if the builder couldn’t foresee the delay at the time it was signed. To do this, you must give the builder a signed notice stating that you are ending the contract under s41 of the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 and give details of why the contract is being ended. You are entitled to a refund of money paid to the builder, minus reasonable costs for work already done.

Review your contract for clauses that deal with delays. If your builder hasn’t met the requirements of your contract, you may be eligible for conciliation with Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV). DBDRV provides free conciliation services for owners and builders in domestic building disputes. If you are unable to resolve your dispute at DBDRV through conciliation, DBDRV has the power to issue legally binding dispute resolution orders and certificates. Check that you are eligible for this service at Is our service right for you?

If you don’t have a formal building contract with a start date, you may have rights under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Under the ACL’s consumer guarantees you have the right to cancel a servicenot performed within a reasonable timeframe. You may also request a refund of any deposits.

If you are ineligible for DBDRV, or if your issue could not be resolved and you have received a certificate of conciliation from DBDRV, you can make an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). You can also contact Consumer Affairs Victoria’s (CAV) Building Information Line at 1300 55 75 59 for free advice and consider getting independent legal advice.

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Rita's dream kitchen

Rita knew exactly how her dream kitchen would look and function so she chose a company that could give her personalised service. With COVID shutdowns and high demand she knew there would be delays, but this gave her time to pick up errors in sizing and colour and to refine the design before the drawings were sent to production. This meant more delays as drawings needed to be adjusted and costs revised.

Despite Rita’s checks, one of the drawers was installed in the wrong size as the designer hadn’t updated all the drawings or the contract. Getting the drawer remade with Christmas shutdowns, high demand, sick tradies and material shortages added to the delays.

Even with the hiccups, Rita was happy. The designer, project manager and builder were coordinated, kept in touch regularly with updates, were reasonably responsive and happy to fix problems as they became aware of them.

What could she do next time?

Take notes of discussions and confirm changes in writing before signing off on plans

Not only will doing this help avoid delays, it can prevent potentially costly mistakes or you missing out on having something that you want.

Given all the changes, Rita had regretted not taking notes of phone calls and checking understanding and that everything had been updated.

Getting someone else to check the paperwork would have been helpful because you don’t notice details after a while.

Page last updated: 27/09/22