Construction Lawyers for Homeowners

Building a home remains the American dream. When you spend years saving and finally make the investment in building a home, you deserve to get what you’re paying for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always play out that way, and some homeowners are forced into a construction litigation situation with their contractors.

Most of these situations are the result of breaches in agreement on timelines, budgets, and workmanship quality. Building a house is stressful enough, but when progress comes to a halt over a dispute it can feel overwhelming.

In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at how construction industry lawyers can turn what seems like a hopeless situation into a win for homeowners.

Construction Defect Lawsuits

A construction defect lawsuit typically involves breach of contract, breach of warranty, and negligence. They are typically found after the construction project is complete, although sometimes they’re discovered during the construction process.

Breach of Contract
In a breach of contract situation, there must be a valid contract signed by both the contractor and homeowner. For example, if a buyer purchases a home from a builder they will have signed a contract with the builder. If the home is found to be defective or dangerous or has caused injury, the homeowner has cause to pursue litigation and or compensation for damages.

Breach of Warranty
In a breach of warranty situation, the issues arise out of the warranty for the product or property. For example, a construction company may offer a one-year warranty on completed construction projects. However, in less than one year a defect is discovered, and the builder refuses to act on it.

Negligence
Often construction defects involve negligence. These negligence-based claims state that the duty of care by one party was breached, and the breach resulted in damages. For example, a construction crew has finished a project and the homeowner moves in. After a few months, the homeowner discovers the stairs were not built in compliance with property safety codes and as a result have lead to an injury.

Construction defect lawsuits can get expensive because of the homeowners time and efforts that go into proving their case. It’s important to have an experienced construction defect lawyer who understands how to build a case efficiently and in a way that gives the homeowner the best chance for compensation. A good construction defect attorney will have the resources and a rich network of engineers and contractors who can provide expert testimony.

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Contractor Vs. Homeowner Disputes: Should You Take Legal Action Against Your Contractor?

Whether or not you should take legal action against your contractor depends on your unique circumstances. Taking legal action is one of the last things you want to do. It can be a resource drain in both time and money. It’s only when you’re left with no choice, for example, if your contractor stops speaking with you or has abandoned the job, that you should consider taking legal action.

It’s going to be much less expensive and time-consuming to work things out with your contractor outside of a court setting. It’s understandable that it’s difficult to communicate with somebody you feel has wronged you, but a legal fight can be emotionally draining. And remember, you’ll still need to find somebody to complete the job or fix their repairs, and a lot of contractors don’t like to step into someone else’s mess. But you certainly do have the right to fair compensation and should take legal action if your contractor refuses to fulfill their contract.

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Most Common Legal Disputes Between Homeowners And Contractors

The most common legal disputes between homeowners and contractors involve a project that is either taking too long, costing too much, or the quality of work is lacking.

Poor workmanship is probably the most common among the three. Homeowners can get into trouble and have a hard time with workmanship claims if they don’t have a contract in place or the contract is lacking in details. It’s when a homeowner hasn’t done a proper vetting job of a potential contractor that these issues arise.

Nevertheless, there are some workmanship issues that are so blatant and obvious, like code violations and safety issues where even a poorly written contract will not save the contractor from being liable to fix the situation.

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Construction Law: An Overview For Homeowners

When you take a look at the Florida construction laws you’ll see they are written to be fair for both the homeowner and the builders. The difference is that most homeowners are not familiar with the laws while most contractors are. This puts homeowners at a disadvantage when negotiating with a contractor on a problem.

For homeowners to take full advantage of the law and be on equal footing with their contractor it all starts with a solid contract and vetting for a quality contractor. Without proper vetting and a good signed contract, homeowners can and often do run into trouble.

The best thing to do before you sign a building contract is to get a construction attorney to review it and make sure nothing is left out that would protect you against a contractor who fails to uphold their end of the agreement.

Construction Contracts

Here are some important aspects of your construction contract to consider before signing.

Licensing: The licensing status of your contractor should be verified with the state, county and city or town. Many have online applications to search for licensed contractors.

Payment Schedule: Too many homeowners pay substantial amounts to contractors up front, only to have the contractor perform defective work or fail to perform altogether. The best payment plan starts with a reasonable deposit, followed by progress payments at specific stages of completion.

Contract Terms: General Business Law establishes very specific requirements for home improvement contracts between homeowners and construction contractors with contracts that exceed $500. Contracts should be signed by both parties, including the contractor’s license number, the project start and end dates, a description of the work to be performed, notices of contractor’s lien law rights, and the homeowner’s right to cancel the contract within three business days.

Provisions Regarding Payments of Subcontractors and Material Suppliers: Homeowners are sometimes left on the hook by contractors who accept the homeowner’s payments but do not pay third parties for their work. Those parties may then seek payment from the homeowner. The contract should provide for the contractor to pay all subcontractors and to indemnify the homeowners against demands from subcontractors and material suppliers.

Insurance: In the event that the contractor’s negligence creates a situation of liability, the contract should have liability insurance in place, with the homeowner named as additional insured. Proof of insurance should be provided before any work begins.

Termination, Dispute Resolution, and Attorneys’ Fees: The contract should clearly state that the owner has the right to terminate the contractor in the event of deficient performance, and the contract should specify dispute resolution procedures and provide that the homeowner is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in the event he or she must enforce the contract.

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How To Initiate A Claim Against Your Builder/ Contractor

If you determine that litigation is the only way forward you’ll want to talk to a lawyer who is familiar with construction law and construction defects. They will understand the process and know exactly where to start and what documents you’ll need to provide to start building your case.

Hiring a lawyer who doesn’t actively practice construction law may cost you because they’re likely not familiar with all the timeframes and technicalities that go into construction law. When you’re ready to initiate a claim your first step should be to contact an experienced construction attorney.

Construction Lawyers

What Does A Construction Lawyer Do, And When Do I Need One?

A construction lawyer is there to help homeowners when a project has gone off the rails with time, budget, and workmanship. They can come in after the fact, and help you out with legal challenges.

Perhaps the greatest value a construction law firm can bring you is before you sign the initial contract documents. They can help with contract formation and review a contract to ensure you’re protected in all the important areas. Working with a construction lawyer on your contract ensures you don't end up with a lien on your home and it keeps the contractor honest. When your contractor recognizes you’re prepared and won’t easily be taken advantage of, they do their best work.

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What are the Biggest Mistakes People Make When Hiring a Construction Lawyer

The biggest mistake people make when looking for legal counsel for construction disputes is not actually hiring a law office that specializes in construction law. Attorneys have different specialties. You wouldn’t hire a construction lawyer to represent you in an automobile accident, and you shouldn’t hire a personal injury attorney advertising on billboards to represent you in a construction defect case.

Make sure the lawyer you have specializes in construction law, has years of experience, and plenty of good online reviews from satisfied past clients. Communication is key when working with attorneys, as law offices have a bad reputation for not being the best communicators. Look for reviews that show how well the attorney communicated and of course see if the outcome was favorable.

Frequently Asked Questions for Construction Lawyers

Can I fire my contractor in Florida?
Yes, you can always fire your general contractor in Florida. However, depending on the contract you have in place it may come with a penalty. So, it’s critical that before you start working with a contractor you have a contract in place that protects you and gives you outs in the event that your contractor does not perform the job as agreed to.

What to do when you're unhappy with a contractor's work?
The most important thing to do is communicate with the contractor and make sure they understand exactly what you’re unhappy about. In most cases, it will have something to do with the quality of their work, how long they’re taking to complete the job, or budget concerns. By explaining in detail the exact problem you’re unhappy with you’re giving them an opportunity to make it right. It’s important to give them the chance to remedy their mistakes before pursuing legal action whether you have a contract or not. Document your efforts, and if they fail to appropriately respond to your requests, then you have evidence that you at least gave them an opportunity.

What is the statute of limitations for construction defects in Florida?
In Florida, that statute of limitation is four years on construction defects. Some defects are obvious and right in front of your face and easy to see. Some defects are hidden and may take time to discover. These defects are called latent defects and you don’t really know it’s there until you see some type of evidence that there’s a problem.

For example, there could be a defect in the roof that you’re not aware of until water starts shooting through your ceiling. So the four years doesn’t start until you know or should have known about the problem. If the problem doesn’t make itself apparent for two or three years, the four-year clock starts running when you first discover the problem. The maximum time period under all circumstances to bring up an issue is 10 years.

How do you deal with a contractor behind a schedule?
Enforcing an agreed-upon schedule is very difficult unless you have it in writing. If your contractor falls behind, the first step is communicating your concern and getting them to commit to giving you a timeline in which they can complete the project. A great protection to keep your contractor on schedule is coordinating your payments by progress. For example, when the contractor meets a certain milestone, it’s only then that they’ll get paid. This incentivizes them to move forward and stay on track.

How do you check if a contractor is licensed and insured in Florida?
Contractors in Florida are licensed by the state for most things like general contracting, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, etc. The state has a website that you can visit called myfloridalicense.com. Within the website, you can search for a contractor by name or by license number, or type of license, and see if they’re licensed. Some jobs like tile works, painting, and certain types of drywall work do not require a state license. Each county issues the licenses to contractors based on their demonstrated competency.

For insurance, Florida does not have a database for you to check on a contractor. In the case of insurance you need to ask the contractor to provide proof of their insurance in the form of a document that shows they are covered, who the insurance company is, how much coverage they’re insured for, and the name of their insurance agent. From there you can follow up and make sure they’ve shown you authentic proof of insurance.

What is considered a construction defect in Florida?
In Florida, a construction defect means a deficiency arising out of the design, construction, repair, or remodeling or real property. Generally there are three general types of defects.

1. Design Defect - there is something wrong with the way the property was designed.

2. Construction Defect - the design is good, but the contractor failed to build it to design.

3. Code Violations - a building or construction that violates the local building codes, including building too close to the property line.

What recourse do I have against a home builder in Florida?
All home builders in Florida are required to give you certain warranties. A warranty will generally last anywhere from one year to 10 years, depending on the builder. In addition to warranties Florida has a construction defect claims statute that provides protections to homeowners. It requires the homeowner to give the builder an opportunity to remedy the mistake or pay for the cost of fixing the issues if they can’t come back and do the repairs themselves. If this avenue doesn’t work out then homeowners have the right to file a lawsuit or an arbitration claim.

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