Disputes with your contractor can arise for a huge variety of reasons, though there are, of course, a list of usual suspects that come up again and again.
Unnecessary delays, additional ‘unforeseen’ costs, and producing substandard work are common problems faced by the property developer. There are many ways to prepare yourself, though, and a whole host of solutions are available to you if you get involved in a dispute.
Check your contract
Having the key points of your arrangement set out in a written contract means there will be less chance of a misunderstanding, and if things go wrong, more likelihood that you will be protected in the event of a dispute.
For instance, one of the most common complaints developers have with their builders is projects overrunning or progressing too slowly. Your contract should state the agreed time that the project will take to complete, if necessary with dates for different stages under the works schedule. It can also specify penalties that will apply if a project overruns by more than a certain agreed time.
If your contract does not state timescales, your builder is still obliged to complete the work within a ‘reasonable time’ (under the 1982 Supply of Goods and Services Act) but the definition of ‘reasonable time’ is subject to interpretation, and you may need to wait for the work to be long past the agreed completion date before taking any action. Making sure your contract is clear will help you avoid disputes like this.
If your contractor appears to not want to make the changes or improvements to what you deem to be shoddy work, try getting another contractor or expert to take a look at the problem. You’ll need to be clear that you do not want a biaised opinion from the second contractor and that you will respect them more if it is clear they are not trying to source work for themselves. A second expert opinion will add weight to your claim that works should be improved. In these situations you might also bring in an architect or surveyor to provide his opinion, which, if it is that the work is not up to scratch, might just sway your builder in the right direction.
Assess the damage and keep a record
If you terminate a contract with your builder mid-contract, it’s important that before any remedial works start you get an independent expert such as an architect or surveyor to view the site, and that you have taken photographs of the build as it was when your contractor left.
Never pay for work that has not been completed as you are hoping, though do ensure you pay for anything that you are satisfied with. Withholding payment unreasonably may mean that your contractor could claim that you are in breach of contract for non-payment.
If none of this gets you anywhere and it comes to the point of a full scale dispute, there are three main recourses available to you:
1. Mediation or arbitration
This is when you engage a third uninterested party to find a solution to your problem. If a builder is member of a trade body there will often be a code of conduct and a form of redress. This will automatically supply you with a mediation procedure though you will need to check what this costs, how long it will take and whether an arbitrator will come to your property to assess the work. You will also need to check whether any decision taken is binding on you and your contractor.
You can also use arbitration or mediation from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or the Royal Institute of British Architects. Both you and your contractor must agree to be bound by the findings of the adjudicators in order for this approach to be effective.
2. Seeking the advice of a solicitor
This can, in some cases, be cheaper and quicker than mediation and you shouldn’t rule it out as too expensive or too time consuming – a carefully written letter with the weight of legal expertise behind it might just persuade your builder it would be less hassle to fix the problem than hire a lawyer to defend him in a case he is likely to lose. Consult a solicitor specialist in the area to get the best outcome.
3. Small Claims courts
If you are concerned about the cost of solicitors, you can represent yourself in a Small Claims court if the value of your claim in unlikely to exceed £5,000, though this will be a significant commitment in terms of time and resources and you are risking be liable for your builders legal costs if you lose.