Beware of cowboy builders

You can’t tar an entire industry with the same brush, but, unfortunately, cowboy builders do exist in South Africa.

b226df84c73549feaa8ba160a95b7a8f - Beware of cowboy builders

A cowboy builder is a tradesman who rips off a homeowner by overcharging for shoddy workmanship and then “rides off into the sunset” with all the cash.For the 2016/17 financial year, the National Home Builders’ Registration Council (NHBRC) received a total of 813 complaints, of which 550 were resolved.“In the same financial year, a total of 142 home builders were suspended for offences ranging from failure to rectify major structural defects, failure to rectify workmanship-related defects, failure to enrol homes and code of conduct-related matters.”These home builders’ names are then published in the Government Gazette and on the NHBRC website,” says Tshepo Nkosi, manager of corporate communication and stakeholder relations at the NHBRC.
Avoiding the cowboys

While you have some protection under the CGSO, the NHBRC and the MBSA, it is best not to hire just anybody that hands you a flyer, as this can open you up to many risks.

And while you can lodge a dispute, complaints can take up to 90 days to be finalised by the NHBRC, depending on their complexity.

So it is best to avoid this as it could result in your losing money and cause extra stress. Here’s how you can avoid hiring a cowboy:

. Do your homework: “My recommendation is to get three quotes for any work that you’d like to have done. Ask for references.

“Ideally, you’d like to see their work and research them. Speak to people and ask questions,” says Mimi Rupp, who owns SmartStone in Port Elizabeth, which supplies raw materials to builders.

. Draw up a contract: “Before signing the contract, make sure that you have read it and understood it, and that the description of the work to be done and specifications of materials, finishes and fittings to be provided are in accordance with your requirements.

“Variations to these during the course of the contract can be very expensive,” warns Nkosi.

. Get clarification: “Consumers who are in any doubt as to what is being offered should ask the builder to clarify or obtain legal advice.

“Alternatively, approach any of our 23 customer care offices countrywide, or the bank financing the construction.”

. Watch out for fees: “Be aware of the enrolment or registration fee you will pay and insist on seeing a copy of the enrolment certificate,” says Nkosi.

Finally, never pay a builder in advance.

While this is increasingly the norm, don’t part with any cash; if the builder still insists, then find another one willing to do the job without payment upfront.

“Only authorise payment once work has been completed to your satisfaction,” advises Nkosi.

Shoddy workmanship on new builds and renovations can also be handled by the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO).

The organisation doesn’t separate complaints about builders on its records, as they are all categorised under “services”, but Bonita Hughes, complaints manager at the CGSO, says they’ve generally received complaints about builders not completing on time or failing to complete work despite having been fully paid.

Hughes says there have also been instances where suppliers drop off their workers without any supervision. Workers then cause damage to property or do work that is not up to standard.

She added that sometimes the material used is also not up to standard.


How do you go about finding the right builder?

The good news is that there are two main associations that builders can and do belong to, such as the NHRBC and the Master Builders SA (MBSA – see contact details above).

You can always contact it for a qualified, accredited builder in your area.

“Ask to see the builder’s current NHBRC registration certificate. Remember, these are valid for a 12-month period,” advises Nkosi.

Roy Mnisi, executive director of the MBSA, says that members of his organisation should provide quality workmanship.

“Our builders, before they are accepted by our association, must meet stringent requirements,” he says.

He adds that if there are any disputes and the work hasn’t been done up to standard, the organisation will ask its member to correct all work.

Even if the builder isn’t registered by the NHBRC, you are still protected because it is illegal for them to operate without membership.

“All builders and subcontractors are required by law to register with the NHBRC before commencement of any home-building project.

“It is a criminal offence for any person to build a home without being registered with the NHBRC, according to the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act.

“The penalty upon conviction is a fine of up to R25 000 per contravention or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year,” says Nkosi.


According to the NHBRC, as a consumer, you have the right to instruct a builder, in writing, to rectify noncompliance with your mutual building agreement within three months.

You can complain to your builder, in writing, to repair any roof leaks attributable to poor workmanship, design or materials; and a builder is responsible for rectifying any major defects identified in the home that have been caused by noncompliance with technical building standards within five years after completion of the work.

“In the event that a builder is unable or unwilling to rectify reported defects, the NHBRC can act as a mediator and institute a conciliation process to ensure the defects are attended to by the registered builder.

Once this process has been exhausted, the board may approve that the NHBRC rectify the defects using the Warranty Fund.

The Warranty Fund is a form of insurance pool that was created by the NHBRC to protect consumers against shoddy workmanship.

However, it doesn’t cover work around fences, temporary structures, swimming pools, tennis courts and lifts.

May 14 2017 06:49

Angelique Ruzicka