‘Trying to avoid getting screwed over by a tradie was a costly exercise’

Mar 20, 2020
This community member needed a new deck, but was stuffed around by a dodgy builder and ended up in court to resolve the issue. Source: Getty Images

I’m a 60-something single female and the past 18 months have been some of the worst of my life. I read a recent blog on Starts at 60 about a community member feeling ripped off by a tradesperson and could relate.

Read more: ‘I’m feeling ripped off by a tradie. Help please!’

The old decking at the rear of my house was in disrepair and very unsafe so with my small inheritance I had an architect draw up plans for a new deck and verandah. Following that I got quotes from local builders.

The quotes ranged from $49,000 to $100,000 to do the same job. I became so disillusioned by the process and was unsure which way to go, so put the project on hold for a while.

I had a limited budget and was eventually able to find a registered builder who could work within it. In late-August 2019, he started work, but not before asking for half the money upfront, which I naively handed over. Shortly after the work commenced I could tell something wasn’t right …

I contacted a building surveyor to come and assess the work that had been done. He issued a ‘Stop Work Notice’ and handed over a document with more than 27 defects. The report recommended the whole structure be removed and started again.

It’s worth me noting that in six weeks, not one decking board had been screwed down.

I quickly lost confidence in the builder and asked for my money back. He then sought the services of a lawyer to negotiate with me.

Both the builder and his legal representative tried to intimidate me while also offering small amounts as a refund. Those amounts were no where near what I’d paid upfront as a deposit.

When it rains, I have water damage inside my house. It’s as a result of the builder prematurely removing guttering, down pipes and the first row of roof tiles at the rear of my property. There is no secure platform on which to stand outside, so the SES could not assist in preventing the water coming in during severe storms.

I lodged a complaint with Consumer Affairs who then directed me to Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV). DBDRV is supposed to provide building dispute resolution without the cost and time often associated with courts and tribunals. It also has the power to issue dispute resolution orders to resolve disputes that are not completely resolved by agreement.

Having filed copious amounts of documentation, photos, engineering reports, costs and damages, I attended a mediation 10 months later that resulted in the builder’s lawyer presenting me with an offer well below the deposit amount I’d given the builder at the commencement of the job. There was no resolution, so the case was lodged with VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal).

The builder and his lawyer did not attend the directions hearing or the compulsory conference, showing a completed disregard of me and the court proceedings.

My case was finally resolved after phone negotiations with the builder. He agreed to pay me all my monies I initially gave him in monthly instalments over a four-month period. However, I received not one cent for the costs and damages, which by that stage totalled $10,000.

The four payments were received and the matter was resolved at the end of February.

I also found another builder to complete the project.

Needless to say this debacle has caused me great anxiety, stress and depression over the past 18 months. To add to my woes, my 16-year-old dog (who was my only companion and solace during this fiasco) died.

Yet the claw in my side is that to get my money back I had to agree to not report the builder to the Victorian Building Authority or disparage him. The builder continues to practice and there is nothing I can do about it. There have been many, expensive, lessons learned.

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Have you ever had a bad experience with a tradesperson? What tips would you have to avoid a negative experience when enlisting the help of a trade professional?

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