The role of the building surveyor has changed considerably in the last two decades. Traditionally, the building surveyor’s role involved working within local government to administer the provisions of the Building Act and the Building Regulations. Nowadays, the building surveyor plays a vital role within a building project, that will commence at the design stage and carry through until the final inspection (usually Occupancy permit).
Building surveying companies such as Red Textas in Brighton will issue the building permit and carry out the mandatory building inspections (i.e., footings, frame, final) for a commercial fee. These type of building surveyor companies have their own experienced inspection team and will act in a responsible way, that can give confidence to the builder and the project owners.
At the building permit application stage, the building surveyor will review a design and provide a checklist report; often flagging issues that may require more consideration. In which case, the building surveyors may allow the issue of a ‘staged’ building permit to accommodate the construction program.
A good percentage of private building surveying companies offer an electronic building permit service which has been found to be very effective and a proven ‘change for the better’ by not just saving time and money printing documents. Nowadays, the building inspectors come ‘loaded’ to site with the approved building permit documentation and a history of the job.
Since de-regulation in Victoria (1994), many building surveyors have expanded their traditional roles. The private building surveyor will provide expert advice to architects, builders and other clients on issues which relate to the issue of a building permit. This might include: interpretation of Building Regulations (which calls up the NCC- National Construction Code Vol. 1 & 2), Part 4 siting compliance (which varies between councils), energy efficiency requirements, town planning requirements, protection work notices, public protection requirements, structural / civil / fire engineering, disabled access to buildings, etc.
Spreading the message on an ever changing Building Regulation environment is another area where building surveyors have played an important role. It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, there was no building regulations that related to overlooking and overshadowing a neighbour’s private back yard! The NCC was referred to as the BCA and there were no building regulations pertaining to energy efficiency or allowing the use of fire engineering alternate solutions! The Building Regulations and the environment that building surveyors work in has evolved at such a rapid rate that just about every building practitioner needs to regularly educated and on top of their game!
The building surveyor’s role often involves issuing ‘alternate solutions’ or ‘dispensations’ to the Building Regulations. Say, in the case where a building is substantially altered and the building surveyor must consider the adequacy of the existing building. How does the building comply with the latest 6 star energy requirements when it was built in 1950? Needless to say, building surveyors will rely on expert reports from the energy consultant or the engineer to determine an alternate solution.
The relevant building surveyor, who in most cases is the business owner, has to remain very professional to maintain their business and license to operate. This includes employing professionally qualified staff. The RBS is responsible for signing of the building permits that are issued. They are expected to carry out enforcement work (i.e., direction to fix, Building Order) for work that is carried out on site that is not in accordance with the Building Regulations and/or the approved building permit documentation.
The private surveyor (or RBS) is relied upon to make many ‘judgement calls’ and must keep a ‘line in the sand’, so that they do not take part in design of a building and /or compromise their role which is defined by the Building Act.
Today in Victoria there are two types of building surveyors. The private building surveyor and the one working in local Government (headed up by the MBS- the Municipal Building Surveyor).
It must be said, although both have similar academic qualifications, Council building surveyors are generally not involved in the building permit process. Instead, the Council building surveyor’s role often involves working in compliance & enforcement areas (i.e., illegal building works), assessing applications for siting dispensations and storing/archiving the building permits that has been granted by private building surveyors working within the Municipality.
The Victorian Building Authority play a role in administering the entire system including granting the licenses (and issuing penalties) to Building Surveyors and other building practitioners. The VBA have a very informative website with a series of Practice Notes which address a variety of issues that relate to the role of the building surveyor.