Many people are, unfortunately, aware of the stories of individuals who have been hard done by building developers. Sometimes we know this from painful personal experience.
There are probably as many reasons for this as there are victims of shoddy workmanship.
At the centre of this is that there are many who are in the business of building homes even though they are not registered with the National Home Builders’ Registration Council, as the law stipulates.
The unfortunate spate of complaints of developers who have delivered substandard work for home owners has caused the council to seek amendments to the law.
The Housing Consumers Protection Bill intends to repeal the existing Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act by responding to challenges experienced in the home building industry and meet the concerns of housing consumers.
The bill is a recognition that despite the best intentions of the act, housing consumers have not always had the protection they need and deserve.
It further seeks to ensure adequate protection of housing consumers and effective regulation of the industry through, among other things, strengthening protection measures, and regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as prescribing appropriate sanctions or penalties against defaulting persons.
Its intentions are to continue giving expression to the main reason the council exists.
Our goal is to assist and protect consumers from any unscrupulous builders who deliver substandard houses, use poor-quality material and perform bad workmanship. This is why we believe it is time to get tough with those who take consumers for granted.
In dealing with concerns from the industry about the proposed bill raised during information sessions across the country, it is important that we restate that for most homeowners their house is the biggest investment they make.
Families will be raised and memories created at these homes. In some cases, the home will be the only asset that will be left to future generations.
It should be self-evident why housing consumers need to be protected from unscrupulous developers and the scope of the law expanded to include other housing consumers now excluded from the ambit of the law.
As things stand now, boarding houses, hostels and homes in mixed development complexes (such as flats built at shopping centres using the ground floor for retail and upper ones for residential use) have been excluded from the purview of the act.
This means that, in theory, a building developer might feel they can get away with shoddy work on someone else’s home knowing that based on where that property is, they are outside of the law’s reach. This is an obvious shortcoming of the law and a disservice to the housing consumer.
Another matter the bill seeks to deal with is to increase the warranty cover period. The present warranty covers from the date of occupation and it is up to five years. This creates an obvious problem if the property is complete but building inspectors find it not ready for occupation and in need of rectifications.
An important question that arises in a context such as this is: Who should be responsible for expenses related to the need for the unplanned (often unbudgeted) costs of seeking alternative accommodation while rectification work continues? If the bill is enacted as proposed, this financial obligation would be borne by the developer and not the housing consumer.
Changing weather patterns due to the climate crisis have contributed to the need to change the law. With rain seasons being less predictable than in the past, it is not unheard of for homeowners to discover after more than a year that there have been defects in their roofing. As a result, we felt that the bill be amended from the 12 months for roof cover to 24 months, so that this is in line with unpredictable weather conditions.
It was always to be expected that the changes would make some developers jittery. Fortunately, whether a developer ends up before the council’s disciplinary committee is entirely up to the developer. By doing the right thing, respecting their customers, they will not have to worry about seeing the inside of the disciplinary tribunal chamber.
Mbara is legal services manager at the National Home Builders’ Registration Council
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