Disputes often arise between builders and owners and, when they do, they are often difficult, expensive and time-consuming to resolve – especially if litigation is required. Domestic Dispute Resolution Victoria (‘DBDRV’) is a free service established to assist owners and builders with the resolution of their dispute prior to the instigation of VCAT proceedings.
Where negotiations between parties have failed to reach a resolution, the DBDRV provides a venue for parties to air grievances and attempt to settle the matter with the assistance of an independent third party.
How does the DBDRV work?
Before going to the DBDRV, parties are required to have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to resolve their dispute. This may involve, for example, written requests to the other party to fix the defects or pay the amount owed. In addition, the dispute must relate to a domestic building contract and involve:
- an owner
- building practitioner
- architect, or
- a sub-contractor.
Lastly, the dispute must be in relation to a home and not, for example, a motel or rooming house.
When a dispute arises, a party may make an application to the DBDRV for a conciliation conference. A conciliation conference involves both parties meeting in the presence of a conciliator who will attempt to facilitate an agreement between the parties that brings an end to the dispute.
The conciliator will require both parties to provide them with any relevant documentation, and will guide the parties through:
- the issues in dispute
- the outcomes sought, and
- any proposed resolutions.
This provides both parties with an opportunity to air their issues in a safe environment, and the increased formality may encourage resolution through the impending possibility of potential VCAT proceedings.
Should I apply to the DBDRV?
Assuming you satisfy all of the above criteria, it may be worthwhile making an application to the DBDRV. Be aware that, at times, it can take a while for a matter to reach conciliation, as the service can have a long waiting list. Whether or not it is worth taking further informal steps to resolve the matter or making the application despite the substantial wait time, will depend on the circumstances of your case.
In instances where the other party has simply refused to engage with any attempts to negotiate a resolution, spending further time attempting to negotiate is most likely a futile process. On the other hand, where only minimal steps have been taken to resolve the matter thus far, a formal letter of demand may be an appropriate step prior to making an application to the DBDRV.
Even if relations between you and the other party have deteriorated and it doesn’t appear likely that matters will be resolved outside of legal proceedings, parties are generally required to attend the DBDRV before they can commence proceedings at VCAT.
This rule is, however, subject to some exceptions. Further information on requirements to attend the DBDRV prior to commencing VCAT proceedings can be found here.
Legal representation and the DBDRV
Given the intricacies involved in building dispute matters, the appropriate course of action often depends on the circumstances, and we strongly advise that you seek legal advice to determine whether DBDRV is right for you.
If either party wishes to have a legal representative present at the DBDRV conciliation, they must seek approval from the DBDRV in advance. Generally, the DBDRV does not approve legal representation.
Despite this, legal advice can assist you in determining whether or not you should make an application to the DBDRV, how strong your legal position is, and what options you have available both during and after DBDRV conciliation.
Going into a conciliation armed with this information will ensure that you are in the best possible position to make the correct decision for your circumstances – whether that be accepting an offer from the other side, or deciding to proceed to VCAT. In addition, if approval for legal representation is given, you can proceed with the knowledge that your matter is being handled by people armed with the background of your case and the knowledge and experience to best advance your interests.
How can Sharrock Pitman Legal assist?
At Sharrock Pitman Legal, as Accredited Specialists in Commercial Litigation, we can provide expert advice and guide you through any dispute which may require resolution at the DBDRV, or any subsequent VCAT proceedings. Please call Simon Matters on (03) 8561 3324 or fill in the form below.
The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.
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For further information contact
Simon is a Senior Associate of Sharrock Pitman Legal.
He is an Accredited Specialist in Commercial Litigation (accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria) and deals with Litigation, Mediation of Disputes, and Law for Charities & Not for Profits. For further information, contact Simon Matters on his direct line (03) 8561 3324.