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Building works: the pitfalls

01 Mar 2016

For many of us our house isn’t only our home but our largest single asset. In order to improve, repair or maintain our properties we engage professionals such as surveyors, engineers and architects to assist us and contractors to undertake the works. The majority of the time the works will proceed with only a few minor snags here and there, but what if something more serious goes wrong?

Disputes during and after building works can come about in a number of ways, but the most common are where the property owner believes:

  • the work was not of sufficient quality;
  • the work was not completed; or
  • the work took too long to complete.

Whether you are aware of it or not, paying for these services and works creates a contract between you and the contractor, surveyor, engineer or architect. Sometimes the contract or appointment is created by way of a formal written standard form document. More often than not, however, the contract is entirely verbal or based around a simple quotation or estimate.

As a matter of common sense your first recourse should be a reasonable effort to resolve the dispute on an amicable basis by discussing the issue with the person or business in question. In the majority of cases this will result in a conclusion that is satisfactory to both sides.

In rarer instances the parties may not be able to come to an agreement in which case it may be necessary to explore your legal rights under the contract.

If your contract was a standard form contract then you may have express rights and remedies under that contract. Even if your contract was entirely verbal you will still have a number of implied rights and remedies set out by legislation. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force on 1 October 2015 and any contract you enter into as a consumer will be regulated by that Act. For contracts formed before that date you will still have a number of rights but they will be scattered across a number of older Acts in place at the time.

As a supply of a service, whether with or without goods, the work undertaken by a construction professional or contractor must adhere to the following:

  • The professional or contractor must perform the service with reasonable care and skill;
  • Information which is said or written is binding where you rely upon it;
  • Where the price is not agreed beforehand, the service must be provided for a reasonable sum; and
  • The service must be carried out in a reasonable time.

If the service provided doesn’t satisfy the above criteria you’re entitled to rectification of the element of the service which is inadequate or performance of the whole service again at no extra cost to you, within a reasonable time and without causing significant inconvenience. Or, where that is not possible, you’re eligible to a price reduction.

You may also be entitled to challenge hidden fees and charges as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 ensures that key terms of a contract, including price, may be assessed for fairness unless they are both prominent and transparent. Terms may be considered to be unfair if they are contrary to the requirements of good faith or they cause a significant imbalance between your rights and the rights of the contractor or professional.

Contractors and professionals must also comply with the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 when they sell goods or services away from their business premises such as in your home or your place of work. If your contract was formed ‘off premises’, then you may have additional rights to explore.

If you have been involved in a dispute with a builder or you think a disagreement may arise, please contact Jan Rzedzian, specialist construction solicitor at Hay & Kilner.

Call: 0191 232 8345

Email: Jan.Rzedzian@hay-kilner.co.uk