Recently there have been significant legal developments that may have huge implications for domestic building disputes, particularly those brought before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
1. No Limitation Periods for Statutory Claims in VCAT
Limitation periods typically set a time limit within which a claim must be brought, failing which the claim becomes “statute-barred” or legally invalid. However, according to recent decisions, VCAT is not bound by limitation periods for specific statutory claims.
For instance, in the case of Steedman v Greater Western Water Corporation  VCAT 128, VCAT held that limitation periods imposed by the Limitations of Actions Act 1958 (Vic) do not apply to statutory claims brought before VCAT. This means that historical statutory claims that would have been considered statute-barred in other courts may still be maintained in VCAT, even if the limitation period has expired.
While this may provide a unique pathway for parties seeking to pursue historical statutory claims, it is crucial to note that limitation periods still apply to contractual claims.
2. VCAT’s Jurisdiction and Federal Legislation
Another significant legal development pertains to VCAT’s jurisdiction in matters involving federal legislation. In the case of Thurin v Krongold Constructions  VSCA 226, the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that VCAT lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine cases involving federal legislation.
Traditionally, VCAT had been handling disputes involving federal legislation, but this recent decision has changed the landscape. If a party raises a federal issue in their claim or defense, VCAT no longer has the authority to decide on the matter. Instead, the case must be referred to a court with appropriate jurisdiction, such as the Magistrates’ Court or another relevant court.
This decision has significant implications for parties involved in domestic building disputes. It means that if federal issues arise in their case, they may face delays and additional costs associated with transferring the matter to another court.
3. Contribution Claims and VCAT’s Jurisdiction
Contributions claims, which allow parties to seek compensation from others responsible for the same damage, have long been addressed within VCAT. However, a recent ruling has brought into question VCAT’s jurisdiction over such claims.
In Vaughan Constructions Pty Ltd v Melbourne Water Corporation (Building and Property)  VCAT 233, it was determined that VCAT lacks jurisdiction to decide contribution claims under Part IV of the Wrongs Act. This decision has created uncertainty regarding VCAT’s authority to handle such claims.
As a result, parties seeking to pursue contribution claims must initiate separate proceedings in a court that has jurisdiction over such matters, while keeping the primary claim in VCAT.
- Domestic Building Cases involving limitation periods that have expired may now, under certain circumstance, have the ability to be heard by the courts.
- Domestic Building Cases involving points of law involving Federal Legislation, may now be required to be heard in a relevant court rather than VCAT,
- Domestic Building Cases involving Contribution Claims may now need to initiate separate proceedings in a court that has jurisdiction over such matters.
These recent development are so legally significant, that it is inevitable there will be future decisions that will define the landscape this legal upheaval. Please consult with a building and construction litigation expert before proceeding on the basis of the information found within this article.