Domestic and commercial building disputes

Learn about domestic and commercial building disputes and the application process.

QCAT decides disputes related to domestic and commercial building work. A consumer, contractor, subcontractor or building industry professional can apply to QCAT to resolve a dispute.

What you need to know about building work?

Before you start the dispute process, you can learn about domestic and commercial building work and where to find further information.

Domestic building work includes:

  • building a new detached dwelling (including a duplex)
  • building a structure associated with a home such as a shed, garage, carport, retaining structure, driveway, fence, workshop, swimming pool or spa
  • removing or re-siting a dwelling intended to be used as a residence
  • renovating, extending, altering, improving (including painting and installing services) or repairing a home, duplex or unit
  • refitting a kitchen or bathroom; and
  • landscaping, paving, site work, etc

Commercial building work includes all non-domestic building work:

  • valued over $3,300 (including labour, materials and GST)
  • valued over $1,100 where it involves Hydraulic Services Design
  • of any value where it involves:
    • drainage
    • plumbing and drainage
    • gas fitting
    • termite management – chemical
    • fire protection
    • completed residential building inspection
    • building design – low rise, medium rise and open
    • site classification
    • mechanical services

(Please note that QCAT cannot consider all cases in the above list)

The QBCC supports the growing Queensland community by providing comprehensive information, advice and regulation to ensure the maintenance of proper building standards and remedies for defective building work.

If you need to find out more information about building cases before applying to QCAT, please follow the link to the QBCC website here.

What is the domestic and commercial building dispute process?

When you begin the dispute process, parties must participate in a dispute resolution process with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) before making a building dispute application to QCAT.

A letter from the QBCC advising of the outcome of this process or advising no process is required to attempt to resolve the particular dispute, must be provided to QCAT when applying. Failure to provide a letter from QBCC about the dispute resolution process for your case at the time of filing your application for a building dispute may result in QCAT refusing your application at the time of lodgement or dismissing your application.

When you apply to QCAT, the building dispute may be between:

  • a building owner and a building contractor
  • two or more building contractors; or
  • a building owner or a building contractor, and any of the following:
  • architects
  • engineers
  • surveyors
  • quantity surveyors
  • electricians or electrical contractors; or
  • suppliers and manufacturers of materials used in the building work

QCAT hears disputes about:

  • the erection or construction of a building
  • the renovation, alteration, extension, improvement or repair of a building
  • the provision of electrical work, water supply, sewerage or drainage or other like services for a building
  • the demolition, removal or relocation of a building
  • any site work including the construction of a swimming pool, retaining structures, driveways or landscaping but only if associated with the erection, construction or renovation of a house or building
  • the preparation of plans and specifications, or bills of quantity related to the building work
  • fire protection work, such as the design, installation or repair of fire protection equipment, or the preparation of a certificate, statement or record related to fire protection equipment
  • mechanical services work, such as the design, construction, installation or repair of a mechanical heating or cooling system in a building, including items used in the system
  • the inspection of a completed building; or
  • work prescribed under a regulation

QCAT does not have the power to decide disputes about building works carried out outside of Queensland.

(For further information please view the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991)

Your building dispute claim may relate to:

  • unpaid wages
  • the performance of the work
  • a contract for the work; or
  • a claim of negligence, nuisance or trespass, other than a claim for personal injuries

QCAT cannot review a decision of an adjudicator made under the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) Act 2017.

QCAT cannot review local councils' and private building certifiers' decisions. The Department of Housing and Public Works' Development Tribunals review these decisions.

In deciding building disputes, QCAT may decide to:

  • order the payment of an amount found to be owing by one party to another
  • order relief from payment of an amount claimed by one party from another
  • award damages, and interest on the damages at the rate
  • order restitution
  • declare any misleading, deceptive or otherwise unjust contractual term to be of no effect, or otherwise vary a contract to avoid injustice
  • avoid a policy of insurance under the statutory insurance scheme
  • order rectification or completion of defective or incomplete tribunal work
  • award costs

When you file your application after participating in the QBCC dispute resolution process (if applicable), QCAT may:

  • issue directions to the parties. Directions are instructions to the parties involved on how the case will proceed. The directions will include time for filing of evidence, other material and joining of further parties if required
  • list the case for a directions hearing or further dispute resolution proceeding to assist the parties to reach agreement if required
  • ask the parties to gather and file their evidence to support their side of the argument. This may include a requirement for the parties to engage experts to provide expert evidence for consideration by QCAT
  • where the parties have engaged experts, it will usually be necessary for the experts to meet with a QCAT decision-maker at a conclave to identify the areas where the experts agree and disagree. Following the conclave, a joint report by the experts is prepared and filed
  • list the case for a hearing, after the parties have filed their evidence (including any joint expert report)
  • after the hearing, QCAT will then make a final decision based on the law and the evidence provided by the parties

Participating in the building dispute process can take a considerable length of time and resources and parties should consider other options to resolve the dispute with the other party before making an application to QCAT.

In deciding domestic building disputes, QCAT has no monetary claim limit.

In deciding commercial building disputes:

  • if the amount in dispute is not more than $50,000, QCAT may decide the dispute
  • if the amount in dispute (either the claim or the counter-claim) is more than $50,000, QCAT may only decide the dispute if the parties consent in writing to QCAT having further powers to decide the dispute. The consent must be filed when the application for a commercial building dispute is filed.

There are some key steps you need to take if you are named as a respondent in a building dispute case. You must:

  • respond to the application or file a counter application to the building dispute application using the correct form. If you do not respond to the application within 14 days of receiving the application, the applicant may apply for a decision by default. A decision by default means QCAT will make a decision on the dispute from the paperwork received without holding a hearing or without contacting you prior to making the decision.
  • read the above information and understand the QCAT process and how the case will be progressed to a final hearing.

To learn more about what happens next in the process and how to respond please click here

The time for QCAT to finalise a case may vary depending on QCAT’s workload and the number of steps to be completed by parties as required by QCAT to resolve the dispute. The current average time to consider a building dispute and finalise your case can be found on our expected timeframes page.

How do I make a building dispute application?

To make an application, please select your case type from the options below:

Help and further information

Queensland legislation related to domestic and commercial building disputes includes the:

  • Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991
  • Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009

The Acts are available from the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel.

You can access a range of databases which keep records of previous decisions about domestic and commercial building disputes. This includes previous decisions made by:

QCAT registry staff cannot give you legal advice in civil cases and are not involved in QCAT decision making.

For legal advice

For assistance in legal proceedings

LawRight Court and QCAT Services

LawRight is an independent, non-profit community based legal organisation that coordinates pro bono legal services for individuals and community groups. Parties with proceedings in QCAT may be able to obtain assistance from LawRight’s Court and QCAT Services to self-represent or, in limited circumstances, be given representation.

If you are unsure whether you are eligible for assistance from LawRight, or wish to make an enquiry, contact the service by phone on 07 3564 7561 or by email at or by writing to PO Box 12217, George Street QLD 4003.

To apply for help from LawRight, please complete an application form. If you are unable to complete the online form, contact LawRight to discuss alternative arrangements.

Community legal centres

Caxton Legal Centre
The Caxton Legal Centre is an independent, non-profit community organisation providing free legal and social work advice, assistance and referrals to the general public. Please note that the Caxton Legal Centre does not provide advice about building or other business and commercial disputes.

Women's Legal Service
Women's Legal Service is a community legal centre that provides free legal advice and information to women in Queensland.

Youth Advocacy Centre
The Youth Advocacy Centre offers free confidential legal and welfare assistance to young people under 17 years who live in or around Brisbane. Telephone support is also provided to young people outside of Brisbane and throughout Queensland.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT)’s registry is here to administer your case and provide general information. Please see below what registry staff can and cannot do to assist with your case.

Registry staff can:

* answer questions about QCAT processes

* provide information about QCAT’s different types of forms that are available for your consideration

* provide you with information and support about how to lodge an application

* refer and/or process any request to access the QCAT register of proceedings (a publicly available list of QCAT cases) or the record of proceedings (the case files themselves)

* advise on fees and allowances, and how to apply for a waiver of fees

* guide you in checking your forms are complete before lodgement (e.g. signed in the correct places)

* give you information on legal organisations that could help.

Registry staff cannot:

* provide legal advice

* advise on whether you should submit an application and whether you are filing under the correct legal area (eg minor civil dispute – consumer or trader or minor civil dispute – minor debt)

* tell you if you should lodge an appeal or a counter-application

* recommend a specific lawyer to assist you

* instruct you on how to word your application, supporting documents or what to say at a proceeding

* contact a QCAT member or adjudicator directly on your behalf

* predict likely outcomes of a case or appeal

* help you prepare your case

* advise what orders or decisions you should seek

* explain what you should do to follow QCAT directions

* recommend your next steps regarding enforcing an order or tribunal decision

* advise on exact timeframes for resolution of a case – this depends on your individual case