How to Protect Yourself Against Building Disputes
With social distancing restrictions now gradually easing, we’re expecting to see many people begin their return to work in the coming weeks. As the housing market is steadily reopening following the Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK, amongst those returning to work will be builders and contractors, with many homeowners having had plenty of time during lockdown to make plans for potential expansion to their property.
When it comes to running a successful construction business, reputation is everything. It’s a sad and unfortunate truth that some clients will take advantage of this fact, opening building disputes where there are no grounds for complaint in an attempt to shave pounds off the cost of their remodel, and causing detriment to your reputation in the process.
On the other hand, one only need pay attention to the news shared by Crime Watch to realise that there are a host of “cowboy builders” in operation around the UK, promising homeowners work that they have no possible chance of delivering, overcharging clients and completing work to a substandard level, or not completing the work at all.
For these reasons, it’s equally important for homeowners and contractors to know how to protect themselves against building disputes. Here are our top tips:
Write a contract
Before any work is carried out, it’s important that the terms agreed upon between client and contractor are set out in writing. This not only helps to prevent errors in communication, but also provides protection for both parties by preventing the likelihood of any disagreements arising. Should disagreements arise, your contract should always be the first place you turn.
A building contract will usually include a brief outline of the work that is to take place, along with an estimate of how long the work is expected to take, and the cost associated with completing the job. Be sure to read over your contract thoroughly to ensure you’re fully aware of the terms you are agreeing to prior to signing.
When entering into any agreement, it’s important for both parties to be honest with one another. If you’re a homeowner who needs construction work to be completed by a certain date, be sure to make your contractor aware. Likewise, as a contractor, it is your legal obligation to complete any construction works within a reasonable amount of time and for a reasonable price. However, if a client’s desired deadline cannot be met, you need to make this clear, and provide an estimate for a date it is possible for you to complete the work by. Agreeing a completion date that you know is unachievable not only puts unnecessary pressure on you and your staff, but it will also leave you vulnerable to facing a dispute should your client be upset when the work is not finished by the time they expected it to be.
When working in a hazardous environment such as a construction site, having a comprehensive insurance package in place is key. All contractors should have public liability insurance, which covers injury to a third party (such as a passing pedestrian, or to the homeowner themselves). In addition, you might consider investing employers’ liability insurance or contractors’ all-risk cover. Employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement for limited companies, and will cover any employee who may suffer an injury whilst working onsite. Contractors’ all-risk cover provides insurance for all works carried out, and provides protection for both parties should the works be accidentally destroyed before completion, or before the homeowner’s policy is extended to cover it. Whilst it is legal to work without employers’ liability insurance and contractors’ all-risk cover policies in place, doing so can potentially put the homeowners at risk of having to foot the bill should anything go wrong.
As a homeowner, you might wish to consider investing in site insurance or contracts work insurance, which you can take out in your own name, or as a joint policy with your contractor. This provides an additional barrier of protection and ensures you are covered for any eventuality.
How to resolve a building dispute
Should you be involved in raising or defending yourself against a building dispute, our expert litigation team are here to help. We have years of experience in dealing with matters of this nature, and can provide sound advice on the best way for you to seek a resolution to your dispute, whether that be through negotiation or mediation.