How to Manage Construction Disputes

November 14, 2016

Despite best efforts and good intentions, sometimes construction projects do not go as planned. Not many things are more stressful than a construction project that is over-budget, off-schedule, or evidencing defective or non-compliant work. It can be overwhelming to determine the proper steps to take to resolve these issues, but here are some important tips to keep in mind:

1. If you can sense a dispute developing, address it head-on, as early as possible. Many people fail to do so to avoid conflict and tension. However, oftentimes, the problems only get worse, and something that could be easily resolved when it first presented itself (e.g. whether the right type of insulation was installed around the perimeter of windows) becomes significantly more complicated days or weeks later (e.g. after all of the sheetrock has been installed).

2. Re-read your contract. Often, parties file away their contracts immediately after everything is signed or, worse, never even get a fully-executed copy. Make sure you have a signed version of all final contract documents. If a problem develops, go back to your contract documents to refresh yourself on the processes and procedures you established in the event of a dispute or problem. Are you required to provide written notice? Are you required to bring the issue to attention within a certain timeframe? Are you required to have an on-site meeting to discuss the issue? Are you required to mediate before going further with any claim? Make sure you know, understand, and follow the provisions in your contract. Many times, disputes are quickly resolved by following these steps. If not, however, you will be on solid footing for taking further action.

3. Call upon the assistance of others involved in the project. Many times, there are several people involved in a construction project beyond just the owner and contractor – from design professionals, to lenders and title companies, to building officials. If a problem has developed with the execution of the work, perhaps the architect can provide some guidance. If there is a payment dispute, perhaps the lender or title company will have documentation that can shed light on the matter. If there is a question of building code compliance, perhaps the building official can provide direction and clarity. At the very least, by providing notice to other potentially interested parties, you take steps to prevent the problem from growing worse.

4. Seek legal advice sooner rather than later. Even if you do not end up retaining an attorney to become actively involved in the matter right away, by seeking the advice of an attorney experienced in construction law, you can learn about creative solutions to resolve the problem, administrative remedies that might be available to you, or simply be apprised of statutes of limitation or other deadlines by which you are required to take certain action. This advice can be invaluable and can protect a homeowner from costly missteps. We have never met with a client who said they regretted reaching out to an attorney when they did. Unfortunately, however, we have met too many homeowners who wished they had sought legal advice sooner.