Buyer Beware – The Risks Of Illegal Building Works

Did you know that as many as 30% of buildings in Australia have some form of illegal building?

Illegal building is a common risk for you as a buyer. You may have no idea that your new home may come with a disastrous DIY job. As a buyer, its important to know about the risks that illegal building works pose.

What is illegal building?

Building works without building approvals or final certification are illegal. You need to get approval from your local council before building work can start. Once the work is complete, the council or private certifiers will check the work and issue a final certificate.

Illegal building works can include:

  • extensions
  • removing load bearing walls
  • constructing deck or pergolas
  • granny flats
  • garages and carports

Why are illegal building works a problem?

Unapproved alterations are illegal because they can be dangerous!  You will be liable for any damage or injury resulting from illegal building works. These instances are unlikely to be covered by your insurance.

Examples of dangers caused by illegal building works:

  • The removal of a load bearing wall can cause the roof to sag.
  • A carelessly built deck could collapse and cause serious injury.

Additional consequences of illegal building works:

  • Councils can order you to rectify illegal building by way of retrospective approvals.
  • Councils can have illegal structures demolished, adding extra cost to a property.
  • The selling value of your property is at risk

Does a seller need to disclose unapproved building work to a buyer?

Generally, there is no legal obligation for a seller to do so. As a buyer, once you sign the contract, you will inherit these problems.

You have no right to end a contract if you discover illegal building works. But if the council had issued a notice about the illegal building work, then you may have some grounds for legal action if you were not informed before signing a contract.

What can buyers do to reduce the risk of buying property?

  1. Engage an independent building inspector. Your inspector can check for additions or alterations, although they are not qualified to inform you if there was an approval.
  2. If the inspector advises that there have been changes, you can conduct research to see if these records have approval and certification.
  3. You can opt to take out a title insurance which may cover the risks of unapproved building works. This is now a growing trend in Australia.
  4. Ask for legal advice if you can include a special condition in the contract. The condition allows you to end the contract or renegotiate if the results of the council records aren’t satisfactory.

Contact an independent building inspector now to avoid the hassle and expense of buying a property with illegal building works


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