In a decision that could be good news for thousands of homeowners, one of Australia’s largest home builders has lost an appeal against rebuilding a couple’s dream home after it was beset by structural faults.
For six years Melbourne couple Earl and Shelley Softley were forced to live in a substandard house as they battled to get their $200,000 Metricon Homes house rebuilt.
Metricon Homes was ordered to pay for the demolition and reconstruction of the house, removalists and rental accommodation in a 2014 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision.
The Supreme Court of Appeal today dismissed Metricon’s appeal against the VCAT ruling.
The Softleys’ three-bedroom house suffered major structural faults due to “slab heave” — movement in the footing and foundations following the use of a waffle slab during the construction.
Within three months of moving in, large cracks opened in the plasterwork, cornices separated, ceilings warped and skirting boards fell off.
Thousands of other homes built in city-fringe estates using waffle slabs may be similarly affected.
Waffle slabs sit on top of compacted ground rather than traditional footings, making them cheaper and quicker to build.
“All we wanted was a dream home, but what we ended up with was a nightmare,” Mrs Softley said after today’s decision.
“We worked hard, saved up our money to build a beautiful home we could be proud of and live in comfortably. But within three months of moving in, our house began to crack and fall apart around us.
“We did not cause the problem and we should not have been forced to live with it for so long.
“It has been a long and exhausting six years, but we feel vindicated.”
Slater and Gordon Associate Robert Auricchio said the building industry had again been put on notice about slab heave.
“It is time for the industry to review the extent of slab heave, to co-operate with homeowners to rectify the issue and to change design and construction practices to prevent a repeat of this disastrous problem,” he said.
Mr Auricchio said the decision sent a clear message to builders, engineers and building surveyors that they must take all precautionary measures against slab heave “or pay the price.”
He said the proposed “The Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill currently before State Parliament was an important step towards domestic building reform in Victoria.
The legislation provides an opportunity for builders and homeowners to resolve matters without the need to commence legal proceedings in the first instance.
Metricon’s CEO, Mario Biasin said: “Metricon is disappointed with the appeal decision of the Supreme Court and will be reviewing the judgement in detail before making any further statements. We are firmly of the view that this case is unique and the technical aspects being contested are not applicable to other Metricon homes.”