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Is it defective or non-compliant work?

A defect is work that breaches a contract term. This may include failing to meet a standard or quality specified in the contract, or breaching an implied warranty under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. For example, if the contract specifies that plastering will be carried out according to Grade 4 Level of the relevant Australian Standard, and only Grade 3 level is achieved, this would be a defect.

The VBA Guide to Standards and Tolerances describes the acceptable standards of workmanship in domestic building construction that aren’t covered by the minimum standards set in the law or specified in a contract. It can help to determine if something is defective.

Non-compliance is defined as work that is in breach of the building laws, which include the Building Act 1993, the Building Regulations 2018 and the Plumbing Regulations 2018. These include the minimum required standards that all building work must meet. For example, if a bathroom isn’t adequately waterproofed, it could be regarded as non-compliance and could lead to moisture problems. Work that is in breach of the building permit is also non-compliant.

It’s the building surveyor’s job to ensure building work complies with the requirements of the building laws. However, it is not their job to ensure building work complies with the contract as this relates to defects.

If you are unable to determine whether the work is defective or non-compliant:

  • Ask the relevant building surveyor (RBS)
  • Speak to an independent third party, such as a builder, architect, building consultant or engineer
  • Contact Consumer Affair Victoria’s (CAV) Building Information Line at 1300 55 75 59

How to prevent this

Do research so you can choose a qualified and skilled builder. This includes checking that they are registered and finding out if they have disciplinary history using the VBA’s Find a practitioner page. Read more about picking the right builder at Finding a practitioner and getting quotes.

All building work must comply with the minimum required standards as set out in the law, regardless of the cost or the terms of the contract. However, your contract may specify any standards above the minimum that you want.

Decide early on what is non-negotiable. Your contract should clearly lay out materials, finishes and specifications that are important to you. Understand that premium quality work or materials will cost more and talk to your builder or draftsperson about the options that are available within your budget. See Agreements and contracts for information about setting expectations when agreeing on work.

During work, visit the site regularly to check its progress. If you see anything that doesn’t look right, ask questions, note the responses and speak up about issues early. While you have a legal right to reasonable access to your property, you should arrange visits ahead of time and ensure you meet safety requirements on site. See more at Communicating with your builder.

You can also get an independent professional such as an architect or building consultant to oversee the work and make sure it is up to standard.

To learn about the different types of building professionals, see Roles and responsibilities.

What you can do

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.

For defective work, you may be eligible for 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 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. Consider getting independent legal advice.

You may also have rights under consumer guarantees to have the problem fixed or seek a partial refund. Read Problem with a service for more information.

For non-compliant work, speak to your RBS first. Their role is to ensure building work meets the minimum building standards set out in the building law. If your RBS determines the building work is non-compliant, they may issue a Direction to Fix to the builder. The builder must comply within a specified timeframe.

If the non-compliance doesn’t get resolved, you can lodge a complaint with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA). Your RBS is still responsible for ensuring the work is compliant but may work with the VBA to achieve compliance.

A report from a technical expert such as an architect, building consultant or designer may be useful for supporting your claim if you lodge a formal dispute.

Read more: CAV | Building disputes, defects and delays

Page last updated: 27/09/22