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Home builders around the country are at risk of having to pay hundreds of thousands for houses to get knocked down and rebuilt from scratch.  That is the upshot of the recent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision in Softley v Metricon.

In that case, the Tribunal ordered the builder, Metricon, to pay for the total demolition and reconstruction of Mr and Mrs Softley’s home in Melton West, Victoria, after finding that damage to their home had been caused by “slab heave”.  “Slab heave” occurs when a reactive (and fairly common) kind of clay soil gets wet and expands under the foundation of buildings, putting pressure on the structures built over it and causing them to crack and bow.  In the Softley’s case, the damage this caused to their home included large cracks in plasterboards, cornices separating from bowing ceilings and skirting boards coming off.

Softley’s lawyers have heralded this case as “important for others whose homes have been affected by slab heave” The Age, 12 December 2014 but respectfully, we consider this analysis to miss the bigger picture.

HHG Legal Group’s construction law team has seen many cases where various types of soil have reacted in fairly predictable ways because of a failure to treat and prepare it properly before building on it.  Instances include, but are by no means limited to, clay expansion in the hills district, erosion of reclaimed land in Bayswater and sandy soil trickling into limestone caves along the northern coastal corridor.

And whilst the buck stops with the builder, in our experience, the problem often starts with the engineer.  In the face of ever-narrowing profit margins in home building and the drive to keep costs down as a result, engineers tend to look for ways to avoid proper soil sampling and classification, to the detriment of both builders and consumers.

Perhaps the true lesson, then, is that builders and homeowners alike would be wise to invest a little more money in proper soil sampling and classification. Meanwhile, back in Melton West, Metricon is considering an appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court.

This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.