Disabled builder wins battle with Simonds Homes over faulty slab

Shannon Draper in front of the unfinished property. Photo: Luis Ascui

Shannon Draper is a carpenter from Doreen. He’s on a disability pension. Simonds Homes, on the other hand, is one of the nation’s biggest home builders. Last year, the company earned $634 million in revenue. So it can afford to hire top lawyers when things go wrong.

And wrong they went when, two years ago, Simonds Homes laid a slab for Mr Draper, as part of a $193,000 new house in Wallan.

Simonds was to build him The Flinders; the company’s website describes the home as having ‘‘communal areas that bring people together in a relaxed and comfortable way’’.

But the house, rather than bring anyone together, has sparked an acrimonious two-year legal fight.

Construction stopped soon after the house’s frame went up, and Simonds Homes hired a $4800-a-day barrister. Mr Draper, who had to down tools years ago due to arthritis, represented himself.

And Mr Draper emerged with orders from the state planning tribunal for Simonds Homes to dig up the slab and lay it again. Along the way, two intervention orders were sought by the builder against Mr Draper, who admits he did not always behave well throughout the frustrating process.

His rare win against a big builder is significant – home owners who experience difficulties generally shy away from taking on large building companies because of the cost and difficulty of proving them at fault.

In this instance, however, Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal member Andrew Kincaid found Simonds Homes laid the slab too low. Then it changed the plans for the house.

When Mr Draper instructed his builder to stop work so he could decide what to do next, Simonds Homes ploughed on, erecting a frame on the property.

For Simonds Homes to honour the contract, Mr Kincaid found, it ‘‘should have halted the frame works’’. Today that frame sits rotting.

The tribunal dismissed a number of other claims brought by Mr Draper. The carpenter, who admits he is no angel, was issued with intervention orders because of threatening language used against Simonds’ employees.

Mr Draper said much of his anger was directed at the Victorian Building Authority, which he said appeared to work with Simonds to shut down his complaints rather than trying to be a fair and independent umpire in the dispute.

An authority spokesman said it had investigated Mr Draper’s complaint fully.

Mr Draper said he had worked on enough building sites to be able to see things had gone wrong. ‘‘I’m not a normal client – I know what I’m doing. And what I saw was Simonds simply choosing to ignore me. These big builders, they just don’t care because they know you can’t fight back.’’

Western suburbs lawyer Hayden Legro has represented several individuals against big home builders, winning a major case against Metricon in 2014.

Mr Legro said he had seen many examples of big home builders changing designs mid-construction, as Simonds Homes did on Mr Draper’s project.

‘‘Builders can use changes after the contract has been executed to reduce the cost of the build and increase their profit on the job,’’ Mr Legro said.

He said more consumer protection was required to ensure building standards were met, ‘‘particularly when most consumers do not pay attention to such level of detail nor understand the potential consequences’’.

Mr Draper’s fight is not over: this week, he was served with papers by Simonds Homes, notifying him they had appealed the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision and would go to the Supreme Court to prove an error of law had been made.

A spokeswoman for Simonds Homes said on Tuesday that, because the matter was now before the court as part of the appeal process, the company would not be commenting.

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