Getting started on a building project is exciting, but it can also become highly stressful. There are usually large sums of money involved, and when the building project is part of your family home or business, feelings can run particularly high.
Making any extensive changes to your home or business is a huge commitment, and you put your trust and faith in a builder to carry out the changes effectively, efficiently and professionally. When things go wrong, it can be devastating.
Disputes between property owners and builders are sadly very common. Coming to an sensible settlement over a dispute is vital to ensure that everyone is able to move forward with their lives and have the dispute resolved in a way which satisfies all the parties involved.
The more common building disputes
Some of the more common types of disputes involving builders include;
• Remedial work and additional costs — If you’ve had to have work carried out by another builder due to the incompetency of the initial builder, you may want to claim for the extra costs you’ve incurred.
Similarly, if your builder needs to carry out remedial work on an area which requires attention before they can continue, they will probably charge you for sorting this out – even if they didn’t warn you of the need for this extra work beforehand.
For example, if a builder adding an extra floor to an extension discovers that the existing footings aren’t suitable for a double-storey extension, they may need to carry out extra work to ensure the footings are up adequate for the extra weight
• Overcharging and unexpected costs — Estimating the value of a building project before it’s been carried out can be difficult. It’s not always an exact science. Unexpected costs can often arise. However that’s why you need to get the initial agreement of your builder crystal clear and set out in writing. If you’re on a tight budget and are already spending a lot of money on your building project, it can be very stressful to find out that costs are spiralling.
If you believe your builder is overcharging you, don’t put off raising the issue with your builder – and taking legal advice if necessary.
• Poor workmanship — Unfortunately, sometimes you come across a builder whose work simply isn’t up to scratch. The building trade have far too many people who claim they can do work which in reality they’re not capable of doing. These ‘cowboy’ builders can cause great amounts of harm and distress. Poor building work trade can also put lives at risk. So if you believe you believe your builders work is substandard, it is really important that you take immediate action. Poor building work, whether at home or at work, can be really dangerous.
• Non-compliance with building regulations — which are there to ensure that work is carried out safely and professionally and at a high standard, complying with all relevant health and safety regulations. If your builder has ignored any building regulations, this is not only highly illegal but also dangerous.
Avoiding building disputes by making timescales clear
The best legal advice on any business dispute is to avoid it in the first place. The chances of coming across problems with your builder can be significantly reduced by agreeing a time frame in writing [and it must be in writing] with your builder, who must supply services within a reasonable time [under the Supply of Goods and Services Act].
Ensure everything is in writing, so that you’re covered. Where the extent of the work can be set in advance, agree a fixed price and have that price and exactly what it covers down in writing – to avoid being overcharged. You should also agree in writing on who is responsible for clearing rubbish and building waste, as costs for this can easily spiral out of control without prior agreement.
Clear communication is essential
Good communication with your builder is key. Make sure you know how to get hold of them at all times, and that you discuss everything with them so they know exactly what you want and you know what to expect.
Remain in control of your project and ensure you know what’s going on at all times. And above all else, don’t settle for work that you’re unhappy with. If you think the work has been carried out to a poor standard, raise this with your builder and seek legal advice if you can’t reach a satisfactory outcome.
Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, you have specific rights as a consumer and your builder must abide by these. Services must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. By ensuring everything is down in writing, you can exercise your rights under the Supply of Goods and Services Act and ensure that your builder sticks to what was agreed.
But my builder used subcontractors
If your agreement (preferably evidenced by something in writing), is with the builder, then the fact that he chose to use subcontractors is up to him. You are entitled to take up the problem with the builder who arranged the work.
Your building dispute – the first steps
If a dispute arises, speak to your builder first about the problems. If this doesn’t work, contact their trade association who should offer advice. In fact some trade associations (e.g. the Federation of Master Builders) offer their own dispute resolution schemes.
- Make sure that you have all evidence collected as well as proof of any extra costs you have incurred – especially receipts and other paperwork.
- Keep your own notes about what has been happening- making careful note of the date and time is involved.
- Make sure you have photographs of the substandard work or other problem.
If you need to take things further, call one of our property litigation team for FREE initial phone advice – and discuss your options.
Legal action – an initial letter
Often, a simple letter from one of our disputes solicitors will nudge a builder into action and sort out the dispute to your satisfaction.
Provided you don’t overwhelm your solicitor with too much unnecessary detail [remember that for any advice on disputes, solicitors normally charge on an hourly rate], that initial letter does not need to be expensive.
Building disputes – who was to blame?
If there’s been a problem with the builder, it may not necessarily be your builder who is actually at fault. There are a number of other parties who may be responsible for errors – including architects, surveyors and structural engineers. That’s another reason why getting the right legal advice at an early stage is essential.
Legal action – court – the last resort
After all, no-one, including your builder, wants to be taken to court, and if they know you’re serious about resolving the dispute, you’ll often find that they will remedy the situation. If this is not possible, you may have to take the builder to the small claims court. If you have taken reasonable steps to try to sort out the dispute in a friendly way, the courts should look favourably on you.
Our solicitors can advise you on how to go about to apply to the Small Claims Court and can help you ensure that you have all evidence and costs to hand.
It’s worth noting that you can only use the small claims court if the amount of money involved is less than £10,000 in England and Wales and less than £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If the value of your claim is higher than this, you may need to look at alternatives. Again, our solicitors can advise you about these.
If you’re in a dispute with a builder and want expert legal advice, call us today. We’ll be happy to help advise you as to your rights and your options in trying to reach resolution with your builder.