New laws to crack down on dodgy certifiers

Somewhere in the dim but not-so distant past, I recall the government saying it was going to introduce severe penalties for building certifiers who fibbed and gave the Ok the buildings that they really shouldn’t have.

This follows the absolute scandal of the self-certification scams of the 90s and beyond where, in one notorious case, the certifier had given a building the thumbs up but the local council refused to issue a certificate of occupancy – allowing owners to move in – because it was so palpably defective and dangerous.

The problem was that ceritifiers did sweetheart deals with developers – “if you say this block is OK, I’ll hire you do certify the next one” … and so on … and so on.

So what has happened since?  Not much. However conflicts of interest between building certifiers and developers will be stamped out by tougher regulations being proposed in NSW, according to a Press Release from the government.

Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean says an options paper is being released which sets out new ways of improving transparency around the appointment of certifiers.

“It’s ridiculous that developers can choose their own certifiers,” Mr Kean said. “This year alone, the Building Professionals Board (BPB) has received 163 complaints about certifiers, and the NSW public expects better.

“Purchasing a home can be stressful enough, without families having to worry about whether they’re being taken for a ride by dodgy developers and certifiers.”

Mr Kean said it became clear that action was needed to protect NSW home buyers, after Labor botched the privatisation of certifiers.

“I’m proposing reforms to strengthen contract requirements and increase regulatory oversight,” Mr Kean said.

“Labor created a mess that is hurting families all over NSW, and we are cleaning it up.”

Really?  Is it such a party political issue?  Labor definitely did stuff up certification and strata in general. But it’s worth pointing out that Mr Kean is this government’s fifth Fair Trading minister but only the first to do anything significant about this.

The options paper is seeking feedback on three methods for appointing certifiers that will increase certifier independence:

  • A rotation scheme, where three randomly-selected certifiers will be available for a developer to choose from;
  • A cab rank scheme, where a certifier would be allocated on a ‘next in line’ basis; and
  • A time limit scheme, requiring certifiers to take a three-year break from a client after a certain period.

“Last month, I released an exposure Bill to toughen licensing laws for certifiers, with strong enforcement powers for Fair Trading to get to the bottom of complaints,” Mr Kean said.

“This is about giving consumers the confidence to buy their first home and know their hard-earned cash is paying for a safe and properly certified building.”

According to this story, surveyors and developers hate the new proposals, so that’s a positive.  Personally, I would jail the buggers a day for every apartment in a block that they gave a bogus certification to, as a first offence.  Then two days chokey per unit for second offences, and so on. Oh, and their cellmate can be the developer who hired them.  It’s the only way they’ll learn.

The Improving Certifier Independence Options Paper is open to public submissions fo until October 30 (you’ll find all the links you need by clicking here). NSW consumers can check the register of accredited certifiers through the BPB website: http://www.bpb.nsw.gov.au/engage-certifier/find-certifier

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