Weathertightness is a hot topic, and the current Government is wrestling with ways to solve the problem.
There is no doubt that the issue is complex with no easy answers, and can cause immense stress for home owners, builders, subcontractors, designers and all others involved.
In my opinion, one of the strengths of this Government is its willingness to consult with the industry to seek solutions to the problem.
Last month I mentioned the working groups that the RMBF has been instrumental in setting up and leading, charged with developing solutions and reporting back to the Department of Building and Housing.
One group is focusing on technical issues (how to assess and remedy problems) and the other on liability (how it should be fairly assessed and apportioned). These groups have just completed their first meetings, and are making steady progress.
In addition to this, the RMBF has also formed its own in-house group focused on ensuring our members get sound guidance if and when they are confronted with a claim of this nature.
It is no fun receiving such a claim and, in my experience, you do not have to have done much wrong to be subject to a claim. My own company has had to deal with a significant claim and has done so reasonably successfully.
The RMBF is in the process of developing a set of general guidelines that will be available on the RMBF web site for members. In the meantime, I thought I could provide you with a number of important points that will make dealing with such a claim a little easier. In no particular order they are:
• Stay cool and calm. It’s easier said than done but there is simply nothing to be gained out of getting unnecessarily stressed. A clear head is essential.
• Study your job file in detail to locate any information that may assist your defence eg, notes and instructions from designers, engineers, the local authority and your client.
• Engage a lawyer who specialises in building-related disputes. This is not a job for your “general practitioner”.
• Study the claim carefully. Chronological events are important. The thoroughness of any building surveyor’s report is also of great importance. You need to understand the allegations, what is being claimed against you and why.
• Try to inspect the property as soon as possible. You may benefit from employing your own building consultant to do this with you. Their opinion may not agree with the details of the claim against you.
• Remember that a defect is not a defect unless it fails. The building code is performance-based. For example, a poorly installed flashing only becomes a problem if it has failed and caused damage. Just because it is poorly installed does not necessarily mean that it has caused the damage that may have occurred.
There is an increasing responsibility on building surveyors to link the alleged defect to the damage. They do not always do this.
• Try to identify whether or not you have caused the problems being claimed. You may not have. The issues can be complex, and problems can result from poor design, lack of maintenance, and work done by others during and since the original construction period.
• Using good legal and building surveyor support, work through issues in a calm, methodical manner.
• Try to resolve matters amicably, and if work is required (and it is clear you have some liability) attempt to negotiate a position where you carry out the work, always with the proviso that the work is signed off by others.
• If you are involved in repair work, try to seek assistance from your suppliers and subcontractors, to keep cost to a minimum.
As I said earlier, these are usually extremely complex matters. You need to get the best possible advice and be in the right frame of mind to deal with them.
It’s really important that you stay calm, collected, thorough and professional throughout the process.