About getting building work done
Commissioning the work
Having decided on the need to carry out the work you could personally manage the work through to completion. This would include hiring the services of an architect to draw up a scheme to your design brief, obtaining any necessary Planning and Building Regulation permission, then engaging a builder to carry out the work. This is perhaps for the brave or those with a feeling for the workings of the construction industry.
The majority of the work rends to be carried out by specialist firms who supply a complete package form conception to completion. Alternatively you may engage an architect or surveyor who will oversee the whole job and look after your interests. They will also engage a builder and ensure all the necessary permissions are obtained. It is worth remembering that any professional you are considering employing should carry professional indemnity insurance and should be willing to confirm this. (professional indemnity insurance provides cover for negligence leading to a loss or defect).
Engaging a builder
Don't be afraid to ask more than one builder to price and quote for the work. It would normally be prudent to obtain a minimum of three quotations but don't stop there if none of the builders appear suitable. Ask to see references and work they have carried out, possibly speaking to former clients if appropriate. Remember that cheapest is not always best.
Builders will normally be covered by insurance to protect both of you (ask to see evidence of this). You could also ask if they belong to an established trade association which may provide additional warranties covering the quality of the work.
Having chosen the builder and before the commencement of any work you should form a contract, this will contain the main terms and conditions of your agreement. Builders may have their own contracts, where this is the case carefully read before signing and query any points you don't understand. Take professional advice if in doubt.
Various standard forms of contract exist such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) contract for small building works but, even if you chose not to have a standard form, it is always wise to have an agreement in writing. You should take advice on what principal terms should be included. For example a contract would always include the address and a detailed schedule describing the work proposed. The names of all parties involved should be included, together with the cost and method of payment. If stage payments are involved, describe what form these will take and how each stage will be costed.
Works unforeseen at the outset
It may not always be possible to foresee what works are required. For example, when foundations are excavated it may not be apparent the depth of the dig required to reach suitable load bearing ground. Where this occurs then if no price is quoted or agreed, you would normally expect to pay a reasonable amount to cover the work actually carried out with your approval. Wherever possible any extra work should be agreed, priced and specified in writing before being done. Try to deal with this eventuality in the contract.
Start and finish date
The building process will obviously cause disturbance and to minimise the period over which this will occur you should include in the contract the start and finish date. This can be important if you require the work to be finished for a particular date, otherwise you will have no claim for damages if the work is not started or completed on time. The amount of damages should be specified and in what situations they are payable should be indicated.
Standard of workmanship
Include a contractual term requiring the builder to afford a reasonable level of care and skill in undertaking the work. Require that materials are of a suitable and usable quality. Describe how you want the site to be maintained during the course of works and the condition you would want the site to be left at the end of each working day. Take advice if things go wrong.
Termination of contract
Include at the outset the details of the situation in which you or your builder may choose to terminate the contract.
Describe who is to be responsible for obtaining the relevant permissions i.e. building regulation and planning permission wherever required and the responsibility for the payment of any fees. Should any changes or amendments be required, then detail who would ensure that the necessary plans are submitted and approved.
Make sure there is a stipulation that the builder is insured and the level of cover in force. Always beware of a builder who is unwilling to enter into a contract.
Sorting out problems
Whilst having a contract will avoid many disputes occasionally things may go wrong, and even without a contract you are still entitled to expect a job which is of a reasonable standard and carried out within a reasonable period of time. The decision as to what is reasonable may be more difficult to prove without a contract and may have to be decided by some other third party.
If a problem does occur then initially approach the builder and indicate your concern, putting it in writing for record purposes. Many problems will be resolved in this way, but don't leave it too late as this could cause abortive work. Try to highlight problems at the earliest possible time, preferably whilst the builder is still available on site as this 'leverage' may not be as great once the site has been vacated.
If the builder refuses to resolve or come back to sort out the problem then you could go to arbitration or reconciliation or you may have to initiate legal proceedings. When the problem involves a claim below a certain level you may take the claim to the small claims court, where larger amounts or arbitration/reconciliation is involved you would be best served engaging the services of a solicitor to advice you. Many builders are members of Building Trade Associations and where this is the case associations may have a reconciliation or arbitration system themselves for resolving areas of dispute.
Building work and neighbours
Where work in any way affects your neighbour, always discuss and try to get their agreement to your proposals in advance.
The Party Wall Act 1996 will require you to notify your neighbour if the work you are proposing could effect the boundary.
When your neighbour is having building work carried out then this work should be done without causing any damage to your property, either during the construction process or as a result of the completed work.
If any damage is caused then the problem should be brought to the attention of your neighbour and a course of action agreed to resolve the problem. If that doesn't work then ensure you have evidence in the form of dates, times, photographs and if necessary, a surveyor's report commissioned by yourself in support of your claim.
Your neighbour should have third party insurance to cover any damage caused. As a last resort legal action could be taken against whoever carried out the work to sue for the cost of repairing the damage. A solicitor would be the best person to advise you on this.
Where a dispute involves the ownership of land say at the site boundary, it is a good idea to first examine your title deeds. These are usually held by your solicitor, bank, or building society. Records of registered land are also held at HM Land Registry.
If still in dispute after having clarified boundary lines from information in the deed sand Land Registry it would be best to consult a solicitor. A solicitor may advise obtaining an injunction form the County Court, preventing the use of your land by your neighbour. A note of caution is that court proceedings are usually costly.
Repair to a garden fence or wall is usually the responsibility of the person who owns it. If you don't know who does, look at the title documents and plans of the property. If the boundary fencing is supported by pillars on your side, the law normally presumes it is yours.
In England and Wales under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992, you can apply for a court order to gain access if you need to go onto someone else's land to carry out repairs and they have refused to let you in.
The above are intended as brief pointers to householders and should not be taken as comprehensive advice or guidance. A solicitor or consumer advice bureau would be the best persons to consult in these circumstances. You may also qualify for legal aid to help you take the case further.
Contact Building Control
- Building Control
- Flint Street, Fartown, Huddersfield, HD1 6LG
- 01484 221550