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Appointing and dealing with a building surveyor

Appointing and dealing with a building surveyor

Most domestic building work in Victoria requires a building permit and the appointment of a building surveyor, to inspect the work at key stages as specified in the permit, and on completion.

A building permit ensures that the plans, drawings and specifications for the work are in accordance with relevant building laws and regulations. The building surveyor is responsible for determining whether work has been carried out in accordance with these laws and plays an important role in ensuring that work is compliant and safe.

This article explains the process and provisions governing the appointment of a building surveyor for domestic building work, and the role of the surveyor during the project.

The role of a building surveyor in a domestic building project

A building surveyor may be a municipal building surveyor (appointed through the local council) or a private building surveyor (appointed by a home owner or an agent of the home owner). The surveyor has the necessary technical and building expertise to interpret and apply legislation, regulations, construction standards and codes to determine whether building work is compliant.

Although building surveyors will work with architects, engineers, builders and home owners, they must act independently and impartially in carrying out their duties and strictly in accordance with relevant building laws.

Essentially, the building surveyor must inspect various stages of the building work to ensure that such work has been carried out in accordance with the building permit and complies with various standards and laws and may issue directions to ensure those standards are met.

Appointing a private building surveyor

A land owner may choose to use a municipal building surveyor or appoint a private building surveyor for domestic building work. Home owners choosing to use a municipal building surveyor do not need to appoint the surveyor. This appointment is made by the relevant local council.

The Building Act 1993 (Vic) governs the appointment of private building surveyors which must be done before commencing building work.

The importance of impartiality and objectivity regarding the appointment of a private building surveyor is reflected in the Act which provides that:

  • A builder contracted to carry out domestic building work must not appoint a private building surveyor on behalf of the land owner, and a private building surveyor must not accept such an appointment.
  • The owner or owner’s agent (provided the agent is not the contracted builder) is responsible for appointing a private building surveyor.
  • A building surveyor must not accept an appointment if there is a conflict of interest. A conflict may arise in circumstances where the surveyor prepared the designs / plans for the work, the surveyor is related to the builder through family, business or employment, or has a financial interest in the building work.

Arrangements for the appointment of a private building surveyor should be set out in a separate contract or letter of appointment. Home owners should ensure that they understand all terms such as fees, methods of payment and any limitations placed on the surveyor’s liability, before signing an agreement. If any terms are unclear, it is prudent to obtain legal advice.

The functions of a building surveyor

Once an appointment is accepted, a private building surveyor must carry out the functions prescribed by the Act which include any one or more of the following:

  • issuing building permits
  • carrying out inspections of buildings and building work
  • issuing occupancy permits and temporary approvals

These functions must be performed in accordance with the legislation and must not be delegated unless expressly provided for under the Act.

Termination and transfers

The appointment provisions under the Act only apply with respect to private building surveyors. Accordingly, if a home owner chooses to use a municipal building surveyor who begins to carry out the functions with respect to the building work, a person may not subsequently appoint a different building surveyor to carry out that role. The municipal building surveyor remains the surveyor for the duration of the works, unless replaced with another from the local council.

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) must be notified regarding the proposed termination and / or appointment of another private building surveyor. This may arise in circumstances where:

  • the original building surveyor can no longer carry out their duties due to death,
    cancellation or suspension of their registration;
  • the home owner wishes to transfer the appointment to another private building
  • the home owner intends to cancel the building work.

Written consent must be obtained from the VBA to terminate an original appointment before authorising the appointment of another private building surveyor.

The VBA will only grant consent to terminate the appointment for reasons set out in the Act and if there is no indication of a dispute between the surveyor and home owner. Merely disagreeing with a private building surveyor’s decision is not sufficient reason for termination to be granted.

When notifying the VBA, the owner must have already identified a new building surveyor and provide written confirmation that the surveyor is willing to take over the transfer. If the home owner is no longer proceeding with the building work, the VBA and local council must be notified in writing.

Complaints and disagreements

Complaints about building surveyors, other than those concerning the registration, appointment and termination of a private building surveyor, are mostly dealt with by the Building Appeals Board (BAB).

Disagreements usually concern a building surveyor’s decision to issue, amend or cancel a permit; failure of the building surveyor to make a decision within a reasonable time; or decisions relating to the inspection of building work such as to demolish, cut into or use certain processes to test building work.

Appeals may also be made to the BAB regarding certain decisions made by the VBA, such as refusing to consent to the termination and / or appointment of a new private building surveyor or failing to make the determination within a reasonable time.


A building surveyor plays a significant role during a domestic building project. Understanding the processes involved in appointing and dealing with a building surveyor in the early stages can help home owners to make informed decisions regarding their project.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 03 8787 8900 or email law@davidnaidoo.com.au.