Avoid being the victim of an unscrupulous builder

builderMany of us have either been the victim of unscrupulous building contractors or know someone who has been. My sister was one of those victims; despite hiring what she believed to be a reputable project manager to oversee her renovations, she was left with a building disaster where all the aluminum doors and windows had to be replaced, and the screed floor had to be completely re-done. The project manager placed herself under liquidation, so my sister never received a cent in compensation. And to add salt to the wound, the building crew even stole the gas fittings from her stove top as well as light fittings! It turned out that in order to cut costs, and pocket more money, the project manager had hired fly-by-night builders.

So, when I read the press release by the Master Builders Association North (MBA North) about home owner Jenny Reidt Uys who suffered a similar experience, I wondered what my sister could have done differently to protect herself.

Uys contacted MBA North after having been let down very badly by a contractor recommended by the estate in which she was building her house. According to Uys, her building problems ranged from faulty tiling and scratched aluminium window frames to a collapsed ceiling thanks to substandard plumbing.

Fraudulent certificates

Electrical, gas and even glass installations did not meet municipal building standards. In each case, fraudulent certificates were issued by contractors who turned out to be non-compliant with the relevant standards authorities. Although the engineer signed off on the roof, she had a second engineer inspect it. He, too, signed off on it. However, a third engineer has now declared the roof so poorly constructed that he rendered the house unsafe to live in.

Once it was discovered that these certificates had been fraudulent, the municipality withdrew the certificate of occupation and Uys is unable to live in her home – despite paying the building loan off each month.

“Based on my experience, I strongly advise anyone doing any building to inspect all their certificates to be sure, and treat any recommendations for contractors with circumspection. For added peace of mind, it makes sense to use contractors that adhere to a code of conduct and have been objectively vetted, such as Members of the MBA,” says Uys.

Unfortunately, the contractor was not a member of the MBA so the organisation could not intervene, which meant Uys’s only recourse was to follow the litigation process for damages caused by the contractor.

But if that contractor had been a member of the MBA, would Uys have been better protected?

According to Boitumelo Thipe, Marketing & Business Development Manager at MBA North, before a contractor can become a member of the MBA, they must have been in the industry for at least three years and must have five valid references for work. Their references are checked thoroughly and the developers or architects who have used them are consulted in order to ascertain that their skills are genuine. As members, they are subject to a code of conduct which includes membership to the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC). Their legal and contractual department assists the general public or other contractors who have complaints about members though dispute resolution that does not involve litigation.

Do proper research

However, the best way to avoid a building nightmare is to do proper research and get reliable references. A good place to start is the MBA website under ‘find a builder’.

When you interview a contractor, find out if they are registered with the NHBRC and the MBA, have workmen’s compensation as well as a valid company registration and tax clearance certificate.

If you are using a project manager, still do your homework to make sure they are using reputable contractors. Find out if the contractors are members of the NHBRC and a Master Builders Association if they are a home builder. “MBA North is the only association that vets builders and checks references for previous work done.  You have the option to decide if you want to appoint the main contractor or if you hand over that choice to the project manager. It is a risk that has to be evaluated prior to making a decision on the contractor involved,” says Thipe.

And always get at least two references, but don’t just accept it in writing. Speak to the individuals, ask probing questions, and ask to see the work before you commit.

What is the difference between a Master Builders Association and the NHBRC?

MBA North is a voluntary association that represents contractors in the Built Environment, so it is the place to go to get references and recommendations. The NHBRC bears the responsibility to inspect all enrolled homes at critical stages of construction.  The purpose is to protect housing consumers against poor workmanship during construction.  Should a deviation be identified during construction, a non-compliance notice is issued to the home builder, who then has reasonable time frames in which to rectify non-compliance.  Should the builder be unable or unwilling to rectify the problem, the NHBRC will stop construction and institute disciplinary procedures against the contractor.

Should a building defect become apparent after the construction of the building, the owners must approach the builder to fix it first.  If the builder’s efforts do not satisfy the owner, then they should report this to the NHBRC.

This article first appeared in City Press.

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