Having building work carried out is often a major investment. It is very disappointing if the work is defective or the materials are of poor quality. You have a right to professional standards from the individuals you engage. But if you do have a problem with your builder, our building contract dispute lawyers can help
If you become aware that the work is not what you expected, you should deal with it straight away. Prompt action will give you the best chance of resolving the problem. It will also prevent the situation from getting worse.
At Bonallack & Bishop, our expert building contract dispute lawyers can advise you on your rights and the options open to you.
If you are dissatisfied with building work or you are in dispute with your builders, we can represent you in resolving matters. We will establish exactly what has gone wrong and what you want done. We will then approach your builder to request that they remedy the problem.
Looking for specialist legal advice on your building contract dispute? Call our Solicitors on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 or one of our four local office numbers for FREE initial phone advice – with no strings attached.
Building contract disputes
Sadly disputes with builders are really common. Some recent research based on records kept by the Citizens Advice Bureau, showed that between January 2019 and May 2022, there were over 125,000 individual complaints made against builders in England alone.
And because building projects are frequently complex, that means there is a wide range of potential problems. Issues that regularly cause building disputes include:
· Defective or substandard building work
· Poor quality materials
· Delays in completing a construction project
· Failure to comply with planning consent or building regulations
· Mistakes or not following the agreed plan
· Whether work is included in the original contract or is extra work and must be paid for
· Damage caused to an existing building
· Disagreement over payments
· Terminating the building contract
· Professional negligence on the part of a surveyor, builder, architect, engineer or other expert
What should I do if building work goes wrong?
If you are unhappy with building work, speak to the builder and explain what is wrong. They might agree to take steps to remedy the problem. Try to be clear about what you would like to happen and give them a realistic deadline to deal with it.
You should communicate with them in an email or letter so that you have a clear record of what is said.
If they do not deal with the situation as you want, you should speak to an expert building contract dispute lawyer as soon as possible.
Do I have a building contract if there is nothing in writing?
Even if you and your builder do not have a written agreement, you can still have a contract with them. If you have made an oral agreement or agreed by text or email that the builder will carry out work for you, this usually means that a contract exists.
But the real problem with these kind of oral agreements, or agreements made in a variety of emails, is proving what the terms of the contract actually were.
How do I resolve a building contract dispute quickly?
Taking prompt action will help avoid a dispute escalating. If you have spoken to your builder and they still need to take steps to rectify the problem, you should make sure that you get specialist legal advice on building disputes as soon as possible.
If you ask us to represent you, we immediately rush off to court – that’s expensive. Instead we will start by writing to your builder setting out your position. It is often the case that a strongly worded solicitor’s letter will persuade someone to take action.
Where necessary, we can negotiate with your builder to try and find an acceptable solution.
Will I have to go to court for a building contract dispute?
If you do not reach an agreement by negotiation, several options remain open to you, other than fully contested court claim. We can frequently resolve building disputes out of court, even in difficult and contentious cases. And that’s just as well, because post Covid, delays in getting a final contested court hearing date are simply enormous.
Here at Bonallack & Bishop, we are big fans of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This is usually faster and more cost-effective than asking the court to make a ruling.
There are several different types of ADR, including:
Mediation involves sitting down with a neutral mediator who will help you and your builder consider the way forward. The mediator will explain the options that are open to you and assist you in trying to find a solution.
The outcome in mediation is an agreement between the parties. The mediator will not make any ruling or impose a judgment on you. They cannot do that – and anyway that’s not their role.
But as good as it is, you need to be aware that both parties need to be willing to cooperate and in theory at least look at some form of my settlement. What’s more, both you and your builder will need to attend a mediation session – either together in one location (though it is usual for you to be in a completely separate room from the other party with the mediator shuttling between you) or as is more common these days, by video conference.
Adjudication is frequently used in construction disputes and is a particularly speedy way of dealing with matters.
As parties to a construction contract, you and your builder have the right to refer your case to an adjudicator.
You will need to start by setting out in writing to your builder the details of the dispute and what you want to happen. The next step is service of a notice of adjudication. This contains details of the dispute.
An adjudicator is appointed and they will hear the matter promptly, usually within one month. They will make a temporarily binding decision. You can ask the court to make an order based on the adjudication results.
Arbitration is a similar process to a court hearing but is a private matter. You can usually arrange an arbitration much more quickly than a court hearing. Arbitrators are flexible regarding timing and you can choose when you wish to have the hearing.
You and your builder will pay the arbitrator to hear and decide your case. The arbitrator’s decision will be binding on you both.
The pre-action protocol for construction and engineering disputes
Where alternative dispute resolution is unsuccessful or you or your builder do not want to try it, we can prepare your case for court.
There is a strict process for bringing a building contract dispute claim. This means that we must follow the pre-action protocol for construction and engineering disputes in dealing with your case.
If your case needs to be heard by the court, we will go through the pre-action steps on your behalf. These are:
· Serving a letter of claim on the other party
· The other party has two weeks in which to acknowledge receipt
· The other party has one month from the letter of claim to respond and say whether the claims are accepted or rejected. They can also make a counterclaim
· You will have three weeks to respond to the counterclaim
You should both try to resolve the dispute before the case goes to court. This will generally be by negotiation or alternative dispute resolution. If either of you does not try to settle, the court could penalise you for this when it decides who should pay the legal costs.
If you cannot find a solution, the formal court based litigation process will start, usually with what is known as “”a pre-action hearing.”
The problem with going to court for claims under £10,000
In principle, there is nothing stopping you taking a claim with a value under £10,000 to court. But it does usually mean that appointing a solicitor to support you throughout won’t be cost-effective. That’s because however strong your case, and even if you win at court, if your claim under a building contract is under £10,000, you’re not going to recover your legal costs from the other side. That means you have to pay your own legal costs.
And if your case has gone all the way to a fully contested final hearing at court, it’s highly unlikely that your costs will be under £10,000. So appointing a solicitor to represent you in a Small Claims Court hearing is likely to leave your out-of-pocket.
Instead you will probably be expected to handle these kind of lower value claims which are dealt with by the Small Claims Court yourself – though the courts will provide you with limited help.
As a result, virtually all of the cases we take on our 4 claims in relation to building disputes with a value well over £10,000.
Am I entitled to compensation for a building contract dispute?
If you have suffered loss due to the builder’s actions, you could be entitled to claim compensation. For example, if their poor-quality work has damaged your property, you should be compensated.
In some cases, a claim is possible for inconvenience and disruption, if it is excessive and caused by the builder’s substandard work or poor service.
What should I do if building work goes wrong?
If you encounter problems with your builder, you should collect evidence of what has happened.
Remember, with any dispute, and however strong your case is in theory, your chances are success are almost entirely down to you providing solid proof.
When it comes to building contract disputes, these include:
· Keeping a diary of events, including when you asked the builder to do something and what their response was
· Taking photographs. This can be before and after shots as well as images of the work in progress and other issues, such as mess or damage they have caused
· Putting together copies of all of the receipts and invoices you have
· Making sure you have a copy of the written contract if there was one
· Keeping all of the communications you have had with the builder, including a note of telephone conversations and copies of texts and emails
Professional negligence claims
If the standard of their work falls below the standard of a reasonably competent professional, you may be entitled to claim professional negligence.
You must show that their failure caused you a loss or harm to your property. We specialise in professional negligence claims. The head of our dispute resolution team is a member of both the highly specialist Professional Negligence Lawyers Association and the Commercial Litigation Association.
Click here to read more about Professional Negligence Claims.
Funding your building contract dispute
We know that paying for a legal case may be of concern to you. There may be some alternatives available to you, including:
A) Private funding
If you choose this option, we will let you know how much our rate will be and update you as to costs throughout. Depending on the circumstances, our team may be able to agree that the initial investigation of your case is dealt with in a fixed fee basis. But in general, because it’s impossible to predict how much work is going to be involved in trying to achieve a satisfactory outcome with these kind disputes, work is charged on an hourly rate.
B) Legal expenses insurance
You may have legal expenses insurance that will cover bringing a case against a builder. It’s often hidden away in the small print – so do check.
For example, household cover sometimes includes legal expenses insurance. You can check your policy to see whether you are covered. If you are, you do not have to use a solicitor recommended by your insurance company. By law, you have a right to select your own solicitor. You should choose an expert building contract dispute lawyer.
How long do I have to make a building contract dispute claim?
There are time limits for bringing building contract dispute claims, so our strong recommendation is not to sit on the issue – but to get prompt legal advice.
If your builder has broken the terms of your contract with them, you have six years from the date on which this happened in which to make a claim. If they have been negligent, you have six years from the date they were negligent.
If you did not immediately know about the negligence, only discover that later, you have six years from the date on which you should reasonably have known.
You may have a guarantee for the work. Even if this guarantee has expired, you can still ask the builder to remedy the problem if their work was substandard or they used poor quality materials.
Can I report a builder for poor workmanship?
If you believe your builder has broken the law, for example, by not complying with safety rules, you can report them to Trading Standards. This is done through Citizens Advice’s consumer helpline.