Construction Law Overview

Creating new buildings and infrastructure is a massive undertaking, as is renovating existing structures. And while this process can produce some gorgeous and effective assemblies and systems, it can also create conflict.

Construction is a complicated process. A lot can go wrong between getting an architect to design a building or feature to obtaining a permit and seeing the work done. And in some cases, the issues take the form of legal hurdles, such as construction lawsuits and disputes. Here’s a primer on the ins and outs of construction law.

Various Types of Construction Disputes

Construction jobs involve complex contracts and many key players. Some disagreements could concern permitting, zoning, or other construction law basics. And many others arise due to rules and statutes regarding topics like property usage, building material selection, consumer rights, and failure to pay.

Additionally, construction disputes can become expensive the longer they are drawn out. Those who face legal action or want to initiate it will benefit from understanding what kind of argument they’re dealing with.

Building Disputes

Residential and non-residential buildings are subject to specific construction codes that help ensure that they are:

  • Safe to occupy and use
  • Not going to harm the local environment
  • Approved for the kinds of activities that occur on the premises

If someone hires a construction professional to build a new home or office and it falls short of these legal ordinances, the consumer may be held liable for repairs if they decide to sell. To avoid eventually being held responsible for what isn’t their fault, buyers can raise formal building disputes in their local civil courts to seek monetary damages or force builders to follow the rules.

Building Defects

Other lawsuits involve problems like construction defects, which are deficiencies directly related to construction, remodeling, or the supervision of such work. Defects might consist of:

  • Poorly chosen building materials, fixtures, parts, or products
  • Inadequate construction that violates relevant plumbing, building, electrical, or other codes
  • Building materials that fail before they should, like paint that starts peeling or siding that warps in the heat

Disputes could also involve home warranty agreements or fulfillment. For instance, a homeowner might discover a problem after living in a home for a while and decide that the builder’s offer to repair it doesn’t meet the standards outlined in the warranty they purchased with the residence. In some states, these disagreements must follow specific state-required resolution processes before they can go to court.

Construction Defect Causes of Action

Construction lawsuits based on defects must include a legal cause of action, and each pertains to a different kind of dispute about the building contract and nature of the defect. Some common causes of action in building defect cases include:

  • Negligence: Such as the builder failing to remedy an unsafe condition or use the right building materials for the local environment
  • Strict Liability: Holding a builder liable regardless of whether their negligence led to the defect
  • Breaches of Warranty: Like when the homeowner or subsequent owner discovers a fault during the warranty period
  • Breaches of Contract: As when a homeowner who signed the original contract discovers deficiencies

Infrastructural Disputes

Build projects involving roadways, bridges, highways, and transit systems can be even more complicated. For instance, municipalities may disagree with government contractors about the completion of the work or how well it performs after the fact. Companies that want to bid on projects may feel that the tendering, or government procurement, process is unfairly rigged in favor of their competitors.

Before filing a construction lawsuit, it’s important that these parties understand how the local laws operate. For instance, Georgia has a State Purchasing Department that oversees its procurement framework, which may differ from those used elsewhere. Other states, like Alaska, prohibit direct procurement for construction that involves leased spaces. Those who want to file infrastructural construction law cases may have to follow established mediation procedures, such as those found in New Jersey’s Alternative Dispute Resolution in Public Contracts rule.

Industrial Disputes

Industrial disputes revolve around disagreements between business leaders and their workers. For instance, some of the most noteworthy historical examples involved union matters like labor or compensation settlements.

Things may get tricky when these disputes concern construction. Imagine that an office worker gets exposed to harmful construction dust produced by their office’s renovation. Filing a construction lawsuit against the builder in addition to suing the employer may be a smart idea, especially if the employer can claim that it received assurances that it would be safe to operate the workplace.

Other industrial disputes have the potential to halt building projects, such as when construction employees strike. In these cases, builders may still need to pay wages during the stoppage, and clients may, in some instances, seek damages for delays due to a strike.

Scope-of-Work, Plan, and Specification Disputes

Construction contracts specify the scope of work, or what builders, contractors, and subcontractors must do in exchange for payment. Unfortunately, architects, contractors, and other construction professionals aren’t all guaranteed to interpret building plans the same way. Property owners have an implied responsibility to provide builders with correct, build-able plans, but they may use disputes to shift the blame and claim that the contractors fell short of the specifications rather than the blueprints being at fault.

Contractors commonly ask subcontractors to provide bids for specific or specialized parts of projects, such as wiring or plumbing. In many of these situations, it’s left up to the subcontractor to determine what the scope of the work means. Disputes can occur when contractors expected their subcontractors to do more than they did.

What Is a Mechanic’s Lien?

For a variety of reasons, people don’t always want to pay for the work that contractors complete. Builders can use mechanic’s liens to recover their losses on private properties by:

  • Foreclosing on properties they built
  • Seeking court-ordered payments
  • Recovering the surety bond, or money that the contractor put up as a guarantee that they would do their job

Each construction case is different, thanks to the situational nature of the construction, contract structures, local jurisdictional rules, and whether defects were discovered. Construction lawyers can help builders, property buyers, and municipalities hash out disputes by preparing accurate lawsuits or guiding them through more affordable arbitration processes.

Speak to an Experienced Construction Law Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified construction lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local construction attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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