In South Australia:

  • The Building Work Contractors Act 1995 (SA) (Act) applies broadly to all types of building works whether commercial or residential, to regulate building work contractors and the supervision of building work.
  • The Development Act 1993 (SA) for 20 years provided the framework for development and building work.
  • On 31 July 2020 the Planning Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (SA) commenced, which introduces a new planning and development system for South Australia. Once the implementation of the new Act is complete, the Development Act will be repealed.

Licensing and registration

Building work contractor’s licence

Individuals and companies must be licensed as building work contractors to carry on a business for the performance of building work, if the building work is:

  • being performed for others; or
  • being performed with a view to sell or lease the land or buildings improved as a result of the building work.

A building work contractor’s licence may be granted with conditions that limit the type of building work allowed to be carried out under the authority of the licence.

Licence requirements

An applicant for a building work contractor’s licence must:

  • meet certain business knowledge and experience requirements;
  • provide evidence of having sufficient financial resources; and
  • supply a National Police Clearance certificate.

From 1 July 2020, the training requirements for builders who undertake major residential building work, have been increased  to include training in specified competencies which will include costing, construction planning, contract administration and dispute resolution.

Building work supervisor registration

All building work must be supervised by a registered building work supervisor to ensure that the building work is carried out in accordance with the building contract and meets the required building standards.

The Act specifies separate qualification and experience requirements for building work supervisors compared to building work contractors. However, a building work contractor who is a natural person can also be registered as a building work supervisor.

Companies that hold building work contractor licences must have at least one natural person nominated as a building work supervisor on its licence.

The supervisor must be approved to work for the contractor’s business and the supervisor’s registration must authorise supervision of building work of the kind performed by the contractor.

Overview of Part 5 of the Act

Unlike some other states (such as NSW and Western Australia), South Australia has not enacted legislation relating only to contracts for residential home building. Instead, the Government makes provision for ‘domestic building works’ in Part 5 of the Act.

The four main objectives of Part 5 of the Act for domestic building work contracts are:

  • disclosure: the requirement for a minimum standard of disclosure;
  • payments: provisions for uniform regulation of payments;
  • payments: protection for building owners by setting warranties which will be implied in all domestic building work contracts; and
  • insurance: providing a regime of compulsory building indemnity insurance to protect against financial loss if the contractor can’t complete the work or cannot meet a valid claim for faulty workmanship.

Contract formalities

What type of work does Part 5 of the Act apply to?

The Act applies to contracts for more than $12,000 and where the work involves:

  • constructing, erecting, underpinning, altering, repairing, improving, adding to or demolishing a house, or the excavating or filling of a site for that work;
  • constructing, altering, repairing or improving a swimming pool or spa within a house; or
  • any other building work within or on the boundary of the curtilage of a house.

The Act defines a ‘house’ as a building intended for occupation as a place of residence. It does not include a number of buildings such as hotels, motels, youth hostels, residential camps, boarding or lodging houses, university halls of residence, boarding school dormitories, barracks, nurses’ homes or residential facilities for workers or for training purposes.

Who does Part 5 of the Act apply to?

Both the contractor and the building owner must comply with Part 5 of the Act.

The key requirements are:

  • no contracting out: the parties cannot contract out of the application of Part 5 of the Act; and
  • waivers are void: any attempt to waive a right given by Part 5 of the Act is deemed to be void and the provisions of Part 5 still apply.
Are there exemptions to the application of Part 5 of the Act?

Part 5 of the Act does not apply to contracts for domestic building work where the building owner is either a public company or a subsidiary of a public company within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Other exemptions apply to Part 5, for example, domestic work that consists solely of demolition work or is for the construction of a multi-storey residential building.

What are the key provisions of Part 5 of the Act?

The key provisions of Part 5 of the Act require contracts for domestic building work to:

  • be in writing and set out all the contractual terms in full;
  • set out the contractor’s business name and licence number (and if the contractor has any partners, the business name and licence number of those partners);
  • be signed by both the contractor and the building owner, either personally or through an authorised agent of the contractor or building owner;
  • state a specific fixed price for the performance of the building work and the terms of payment (unless the contract says that the work is to be completed within a specified time period, in which case the parties can choose to have a rise and fall clause included in the contract); and
  • state if the price is an estimate only, a fair and reasonable estimate and contain the statement ‘This Price May Change’ or ‘Estimate Only’.

Additional requirements:

  • the building owner must be given a legible copy of the signed contract as soon as reasonably practicable after it has been signed by both parties, together with a notice setting out the building owner’s rights and obligations under the contract and the Act; and
  • if the contract provides for the payment of progress payments to the contractor, then these payments can only be paid for work that has actually been performed and upon a written request from the contractor or if the contractor is entitled to these payments under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009 (SA SOP Act).

Furthermore, a person must not demand or require that a payment be made under a contract by the building owner unless the payment is:

  • a genuine progress payment for work already performed;
  • to a third party for engineering, drawing, surveying or other professional services;
  • to reimburse the cost of building indemnity insurance or the amount of any fee required to be paid under the Act;
  • a deposit of $1,000 or less – if the price of the building work stated in the contract is less than $20,000;
  • a deposit of not more than 5% of the price – if the price of the building work stated in the contract is $20,000 or more; or
  • an entitlement under the SA SOP Act.

Statutory warranties

Part 5 of the Act sets out specific warranties that are implied in every domestic building work contract in South Australia.

Those implied warranties are:

  • standards: the work has to be performed in a proper manner to ‘accepted trade standards’;
  • specifications: the work has to be completed in accordance with the plans and specifications agreed on by the parties;
  • materials: all the materials supplied by the contractor and used in the work have to be ‘good and proper’;
  • statutory requirements: the work has to be performed in accordance with all statutory requirements;
  • time: if the contract does not stipulate a time period for completion then the contractor has to finish the work with reasonable diligence;
  • habitable: if the domestic building contract is for the construction of a house then the house must be reasonably fit for human habitation; and
  • purpose: if the building owner expressly tells the contractor that there is a specific purpose for the work or a particular result that the building owner desires, then the building work must be reasonably fit for that purpose or reasonably achieve the desired result.

If a house is built under a domestic building contract and is then sold or passed on to another person,  the warranties in favour of the person who originally had the house built will pass on to the person who acquires the house after the original owner.

It is important to note that any proceedings against a contractor for breach of one of the statutory warranties must be started within 5 years after the building work is completed. This period of limitation cannot be extended.


The home building indemnity insurance provisions under Part 5 of the Act apply to home building work of any value over the prescribed amount, currently $12,000.


Building indemnity insurance is not required for:

  • domestic building work for which approval under the Development Act 1993 (SA) or the repealed Building Act 1971 (SA) is or was not required; or
  • minor domestic building work below $12,000.
How does building indemnity insurance work?

Under Part 5 of the Act, any contractor who performs domestic building work must be insured in relation to that work, and the contractor must provide the building owner with a copy of its insurance certificate.

The insurance policy held by the contractor must insure the building owner against the risk of loss resulting from non-completion of the building work due to the insolvency, death or disappearance of the contractor. The policy must also insure the building owner against the risk of being unable to enforce or recover under the statutory warranties, again due to the insolvency, death or disappearance of the contractor.

The intention of building indemnity insurance is to ensure that domestic building work will be completed at no additional cost to the building owner if the contractor dies, disappears or becomes insolvent, and that any defective work is rectified in those circumstances.

The insurance cover held by the contractor must:

  • be for at least $150,000 for policies issued after 1 July 2017 (increased from $80,000);
  • only have an excess of up to $400;
  • allow at least 90 days for a claim to be made under the policy; and
  • not allow the insurer to avoid liability on the ground of misrepresentation or non-disclosure by the contractor.


The building owner’s right to terminate

Part 5 of the Act allows a building owner to terminate a domestic building work contract by giving the contractor a written notice of termination:

  • before the end of 5 clear business days after the making of the contract (the ‘cooling off period’); or
  • if the contractor has failed to comply with the formal requirements for the contract or the rules in relation to price, payments and insurance under the Act – before the time of completion of the building work under the contract.
What powers does the court have?

If a building owner terminates a domestic building work contract, the building owner or the contractor may apply to either the Magistrate’s Court (disputes of $100,000 or less) or the District Court (disputes greater than $100,000) for an order providing for the return or repayment of any payment made by the building owner, or payment to the contractor for materials supplied or work already performed under the contract.

The court can also determine disputes:

  • arising out of a domestic building work contract on the application of a party to the contract, where the dispute involves some question of whether building work has been performed in accordance with the contract; and
  • arising out of the performance of the building work to which the warranty relates, on the application of a person entitled to the benefit of a statutory warranty.

The court can make a number of orders including orders:

  • to carry out remedial work;
    requiring payment of amounts due under the contract or by way of compensation; and
  • to employ an alternative builder to do remedial work (at the original contractor’s expense).

If a dispute is for an amount of $100,000 or less, then the dispute will be heard by the Magistrates Court. If the dispute is for an amount greater than $100,000, the dispute will be heard by the Civil Division of the District Court.

Are there any special relief provisions?

If a domestic building work contract contains terms and conditions which are either harsh or unconscionable then the court can:

  • declare a term or condition of the contract void;
  • modify the terms or conditions of the contract; and
  • order repayment of any amount paid by the building owner under the term or condition that has been declared void or modified.

The court is also able to make orders against any person who has shared in the profits of or received a beneficial interest from the contract.

Updated October 2020