After spending almost $70,000 on home renovations, a young family in eastern Victoria may have to demolish their dream house.
Virgil Tirris and his partner, Izabela Kupniewska, bought the property in coastal Loch Sport in February 2022 and soon after engaged a local builder, Darcy Wheildon, to complete renovations on the house.
The couple came across Mr Wheildon on a local community Facebook page where he was advertising his building services.
Mr Wheildon started renovations at the property in March 2022, but four months later, a Wellington Shire Council surveyor stumbled across the property while conducting general business in the area.
The surveyor noticed substantial building work being undertaken at the property. Upon checking the council’s records, it was found that no building permit was in force.
The council ordered the builder to stop work.
Mr Tirris said he was in a “hard spot” having run out of funds to pay for any future work.
“It’s looking like I’m going to have to demolish it [because] the damage he has caused is too extensive to repair,” Mr Tirris said.
“But I’ve run out of funds to even think about it.”
A sense of ‘trust’
An investigation by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) found Mr Wheildon had not obtained a building permit and he was not a registered builder.
Mr Tirris said he did not check whether Mr Wheildon was a registered builder as he did not realise this information was publicly available.
“He said he was a registered builder and that he could do it,” Mr Tirris said.
“It was my first time renovating [and] I have no experience in building trades [so] I thought, I’m paying these guys for x, and it must be right.
“I had a sense of trust with him.”
A VBA spokesperson confirmed Mr Wheildon was not a registered practitioner “in any class or category”.
“As of January 2024, the VBA is investigating a complaint it has received regarding Mr Darcy Wheildon,” the spokesperson said.
“As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further.”
The ABC has contacted Mr Wheildon multiple times but has not received a response.
No early warning signs
Mr Tirrissaid it was not until the building surveyor attended the property that he realised something was wrong.
“It felt like it was going well, and it wasn’t until four months later when the council gave me a cease building order that I realised exactly what was happening … I was blind to it,” Mr Tirris said.
“Once that happened, I got a building surveyor report, and they came and checked his workmanship and said basically 90 per cent of the work [he’d] done wasn’t up to building standard.”
The building report compiled by Smart Choice Building Permit and Inspections in Traralgon found that, due to several structural concerns, the renovations were non-compliant with the Building Act and National Construction Code.
“The existing framework has been compromised by significant termite damage,” the report said.
“The dwelling is extensively damaged and unsafe in its current condition. It is no longer practically possible for the owner to restore the building to its original condition.”
A Wellington Shire Council spokesperson said the municipal building surveyor met with the owners in November last year to discuss the outstanding notices and orders.
“Council cancelled the notices and orders but maintained the Stop Work Order until a new building permit is obtained,” the spokesperson said.
“We suggested that the owner work with a private building surveyor, but we have not been advised if the owner has made progress with this.”
The family’s situation caught the eye of the Loch Sport community, which has since started a Go Fund Me page for the couple to recuperate the funds needed to demolish their home and start the building again.
“It’s a fantastic community down here,” Mr Tirris said.
“Apart from this one person [Mr Wheildon], every single person has been really supportive, and they’ve tried to do what they can to help me out.
“Just [recently] a man fromSale [reached out and] offered to do the demolition for free — that blew my mind.”
Mr Tirris said the experience had been a “learning curve”, and he urged new home builders to be careful when engaging tradespeople.
“You should always check who you hire and get some references because sometimes people are a bit dodgy and I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone,” he said.
“It’s been a massive learning curve about doing your due diligence.”
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