Builders beware: owners given clarity on shoddy building work in off-the-plan apartments
A building dispute running for the better half of two decades between the owners of Units Plan 1917 and the developer, Koundouris Projects, appears to have finally come to an end on 16 February 2018 with the High Court refusing Koundouris’ application for leave to appeal against the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal in Koundouris v Owners – Units Plan No 1917  ACTCA 36.
Originally heard in 2016, the matter concerns a claim by the owners of Units Plan 1917 against the builder, Mr Koundouris, in relation to the construction of the Lagani apartment complex and the various issues in the complex following its completion, including the existence and ongoing water leaking and damage in units and the cracking of masonry and facades. The matter heard was complex, particularly due to the various changes in legislation having taken place during the construction phase, and turned on the interpretation of the statutory warranties contained in the Building Act 1972 (ACT) (now repealed) and the Building Act 2004 (ACT). Though the primary judge held that Mr Koundouris had indeed breached these statutory warranties, it was the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal that provides greater certainty to unit owners, builders and developers alike as to the application of the statutory warranties in off-the-plan contracts for sale.
The ACT Court of Appeal largely upheld the primary judge’s decision but made the following important distinctions:
- It is not necessary for a builder and developer to have a written contract in place for the statutory warranties to apply;
- The statutory warranties extend to the defined parts of the unit titled building, being load bearing walls, columns, footings, slabs and balcony’s;
- The statutory warranties operate both during construction and following completion;
- The source of an owners rights for breaches of the statutory warranties arise as the successor in title but can also arise for successive owners as the statutory warranties are implied in the contract for sale; and
- Unsuccessful repair works (where there is an inherent issue with the construction of the building) throughout the statutory warranty period may lead a builder to breach the statutory warranties repeatedly allowing a claim to be brought against the builder for an extended period of time.
Though some might suggest that the decision of the ACT Court of Appeal may discourage builders from attempting to repair building defects for fear of inadvertently extending the limitation period under the statutory warranty, the decision makes clear that the intention of the statutory warranties are to protect the consumer from shoddy building work and that the provisions of the legislation should be interpreted accordingly.