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Building and planning dispute resolution

Use this information as a guide to resolving building disputes between builders/contactors and owners in the ACT. It outlines the steps to follow in HIA building contracts as well as what’s involved with the court and hearing process.

Resolving business disputes 

It is recommended that you enter into a contract for residential building work. These contracts generally outline steps to be taken in the event of a dispute. For example, the HIA ACT Residential Building Contract for Alterations and Additions states that: 

Disputes must be resolved according to Territory laws that govern the resolution of building disputes. The owner and the builder must meet within 7 days to discuss the matters and attempt to resolve them by negotiating, mediation or other agreed method.

Where disputes continue beyond the scope of the contract (i.e. the builder and owner cannot reach a negotiated agreement), then legal action may follow. 

 The court process 

Most building disputes in the ACT that cannot be resolved between the parties end up in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). The ACAT can hear and determine a civil dispute relating to an amount of $10,000 or less. It provides a forum for the determination of a wide range of civil disputes, including disputes between builder and owner and builder and subcontractor. There is also a rapid adjudication process through security of payment laws that can be used for disputes between builders and contractors from 1 July 2010. 

An application would need to be lodged under the general civil provision. Forms can be obtained from the ACAT website. A fee will be charged for lodging an application. 

Note: Claims above $10,000 but under $50 000 proceed through the Magistrates Court. 

ACAT hearings 

A matter will usually be heard at a ‘hearing’ in front of an ACAT member. Each party will be given the opportunity to state their case. Depending on the circumstances you may also call witnesses to give evidence. The tribunal members will encourage both parties to discuss the dispute and may suggest ways in which it might be settled. If an agreement is not reached, the Tribunal will make a decision. Both agreements and decisions are binding and can be enforced in the same way as an order of the Court. 

Making an application

When making an application it is important to remember: 

  • Try to resolve the issue before the hearing date. This can be achieved through mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. If you reach an agreement after the application is lodged let the tribunal know 
  • Make sure you are well prepared for your hearing. Prepare a statement in writing and plan when and where to call witnesses or introduce evidence. Ensure you have enough copies of evidence to go around for everyone 
  • Keep all evidence relevant to your claim, including letters, faxes, emails, bills. photos or quotes for repairs 
  • Ensure the details on your application and particularly the respondent’s name and address are correct
  • Seek further legal advice where the circumstances require that you have legal representation. 

To find out more, contact HIA's Workplace Services team

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