Help! My building is moving

Foundation movement is a common cause of building distress and disputation. It is often not clear what the causes are or where the responsibility lies.

The causes of foundation movement can be varied and present themselves in a number of ways. The most common factors contributing to movement are soil conditions, site location, site drainage, the construction and design of the foundations and the type of founding materials – footings or slab. All of these have an impact on how you maintain your home to reduce the risk of damage caused by foundation movement.

Cracking in buildings is usually the initial sign of movement in a building. This can be caused by a number of things including, but not limited to:

  • Ground movement and changes in the soil (which can be caused by the presence of water or trees);
  • Defective structural design; or
  • Poor workmanship.

In circumstances where the cause is related to defective design or poor workmanship, particularly in minor cases, the builder may be liable to rectify the damage caused. In more severe cases the builder may be ordered to pay compensation for the demolition and rebuilding of a new dwelling.

Responsibilities of the builder

When building a new house, the builder must adhere to and comply with National Construction Code (Code) and Australian Standards (Standards). They must build the dwelling’s foundations according to the engineer’s designs and specifications, which must be approved by the building surveyor when the building permit is issued. This will ensure that the dwelling and its foundations are designed and built to suit the soil conditions, minimising any future movement and damage to the dwelling, considering the soil condition doesn’t change.

If a home is showing signs of significant damage, the potential cause and extent of excessive foundation movement should be promptly investigated. If a home is less than 10 years old, the owner should contact their builder for advice and guidance before taking action.

Case Study: Metricon Homes Pty Ltd v Softley

In 2009, the Softley family contracted to build with Metricon (who are one of Australia’s biggest residential builders), to build a new home in Melton, west of Melbourne.

Soon after taking occupancy, large cracks appeared in the plaster walls and brickwork.  Investigations into the cracks revealed significant ‘slab heave’.

The Tribunal (VCAT) found that Metricon had failed in their practice to carry out the construction of the home’s ‘waffle’ slab in a proper and workmanlike manner as they failed to properly vibrate the concrete, failed to remove the inundation of water and the slab was not the appropriate thickness. This failure to comply with the Code and Standards breached the contractual obligations Metricon owed to Mr and Mrs Softley.

Metricon was ordered to recompense the cost to demolish and reconstruct the house, along with the associated cost of home removalists and rental accommodation for the Softley family.  Metricon appealed this decision.

The Supreme Court subsequently dismissed Metricon’s appeal and upheld the Tribunal’s decision that the appropriate resolution was to put the Softley’s in the position that they would have been had the foundations been properly built.

This case serves as a reminder that builders face significant financial risk if they don’t comply with the Code/Standards.

Our Services

Claims against builders, engineers or building surveyors for a defective foundation design or construction is a complex area of law that requires analysis and scrutiny from lawyers that are experts in construction litigation.

If you have any concerns about cracks in your residence or property, do not hesitate to contact our team at Oldham Construction Lawyers.

We can help to establish the cause and extent of the problem and provide professional advice on the appropriate steps to take.

Contact the Director at Oldham Construction Lawyers, Daniel Oldham on (03) 9640 0002, or via email info@oclawyers.com.au.