Top tips for avoiding a building dispute
A lot goes into a building project; unfortunately, many things can cause disputes during this process. Here are our top 5 tips to help prevent a conflict.
Construction disputes often arise because of miscommunication or non-communication between the builder and the homeowner. These communication issues commonly occur in relation to variations in the building works, disagreement on the scope of the building work, invoice payment delays and construction delays generally. Therefore, it is important that the builder and homeowner remain in steady, consistent contact to prevent any miscommunication from occurring.
Tip one: Communication
Communication is key! Construction disputes commonly arise due to miscommunication or non-communication between the builder and the homeowner. These communication issues commonly arise in relation to variations on the building works, disagreement on the scope of the building work, invoice payment delays and building delays generally. It is important that the builder and homeowner remain in steady, consistent contact in order to prevent any miscommunication from occurring, which may ultimately lead to a dispute.
Tip two: Scope of Work
Before any contract is entered into, every building project should start with the parties sitting down and determining the scope of the work to be performed by the builder – for example, what exact works will be performed by the builder and what your expectations are of the works. Builders also like to set down some boundaries for you as the homeowner, such as limiting the number of times the homeowner contacts the builder per day and at what hours of the day the homeowner may contact the builder (this can be reasonably agreed to by the parties). During this time, it may also be beneficial to go through items such as a payment schedule (which details the payments to be made at each progressive stage of the build/development) as well as any possible delays that may arise, especially during the current covid-19 pandemic.
By spending this time going over all the details and potential grey areas, issues (and subsequent disputes) can be avoided later in the project.
Tip three: Enter a written contract It is imperative that a written contract is entered into between the parties. Some builders may suggest that a simple discussion is enough to make a viable contract. However, if there is no written contract and the matter is later taken to Court, it may turn into a he-said she-said scenario, which is not ideal under any circumstance.
Once a written contract has been prepared, you must understand the contract's nature, content and effect before you sign it. If you are unsure of any terms of the contract, we strongly suggest seeking legal advice to assist your interpretation of the contract. Once you are happy with the contract and fully understand it, please ensure that it is also signed by the builder at the time of signing.
This way, the better your understanding of the contract, the less likely there is for a dispute to arise simply from your misinterpretation of the contract.
Tip four: Have a contact person
From our experience, homeowners generally feel more ‘heard’ and ‘in the loop’ when they are dealing directly with one contact person from the building entity. If the builder is a sole trader or partnership, you may deal with the builder directly and this may not cause any issues.
However, if the builder is a large company, sometimes homeowners feel like just a number rather than a person. Most of the time, large building companies will identify a point of contact for you on the building contract, which will be the person assigned to deal directly with you and any issues you may have in relation to the works. If this is not the case, it is important that you ask the builder for the contact details of the relevant person to which you can address any questions or concerns throughout the building process.
Having a designated contact person may alleviate the stress of dealing with a large building company and may also reduce the chance for a dispute to arise as a result of miscommunication or non-communication with the builder.
Tip five: Documentation
It is imperative that you keep a record of all communications and building works. This may include photographs of completed phases of the building works and notes on telephone conversations (such as the date, time and what was said). Generally, for your recording purposes, it is ideal if each communication with your builder is written rather than through a telephone conversation.
This way, if any issue arises, pointing to evidence in the form of thorough documentation may be one way to prevent the issue from turning into a dispute. Many builders see documentation as ammunition for a dispute (and subsequent Court proceedings). However, it is important to use these documentation practices first and foremost to communicate and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Sometimes you can't control things, if you believe that a disagreement is unfolding regarding a building and construction project, we recommend seeking advice as early as possible to prevent the dispute from escalating or becoming more out of hand.
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