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My Builder has Walked Off Site, What Can I Do?

Jan 06, 2015

The first task is to assess the situation. Has the builder actually left your site because there was a problem with the work they were doing for you or has he had an issue with team he employs, or material delays?

If it is the case that there is a dispute, it is vital to evaluate the project to work out what your options are. Do you have a contract? How much is your build worth? How far away are you from finishing the build? How much have you paid over and how much would you need to spend to correct the problems?

In most cases, from the outset, many builders will ask you to sign a contract outlining all the work that is to be done, when payments are due from you, and what yours and their obligations are. A common industry standard document is called a JCT contract, and this is a very thorough document about 100 pages long. In other cases, I have known builders to trade on a handshake for over 30 years and it is a rarity that there are any problems. This is of course risky but in a lot of cases it is the norm, although this is not advisable. This can be fine until a problem happens. In some circumstances of a poorly written or non-existent contract, you can rely on the law to imply terms or remedies into your contract.

Once you have worked out if there is a contract, you could check the document to see if there are any clauses that say what should happen in the event of a dispute. Mediation is always a good option because quite frankly, legal costs can quickly escalate. It is important to try and resolve something very early on to avoid unnecessary costs. If your contract does not have a mediation clause or some sort or you have no contract at all, you may want to try and negotiate with them to come back on site and sort things out. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you can instruct a professional to do this for you and advise you on your position.

If someone walks off site, and does not complete the work, that act can be considered what is called a ‘repudiatory breach’. This means that one party of the contract has done something so serious; it brings the contract to an immediate end. Walking off site, refusing to return and finish would be a good example of that, however, simply not putting a plug socket in the right place, would be unlikely to amount to a repudiatory breach. It is possible a collection of problems could also amount to a repudiatory breach however this would need to be properly evaluated.

Where a build has gone wrong, and there is a claim there, a variety of professionals are likely to be involved. The work done will need to be evaluated, against the value of the project in total, and evaluate any costs it may take to complete the project.

There are a number of things you can do to help your solicitor. Keep as much evidence as possible. Keep original documents, all correspondence, by email, text or letters, invoices to help quantify your claim, records of payments, photos of the site, and even a diary of the activities, or lack of. This will help any professional you want to speak to advise you on the strength of any possible claim you may have.

Finally, it is important you seek advice before instructing another company to take over the build. Additional build work could hide or destroy evidence and of course that could diminish the strength of any claim you had. 

If you are unsure if you have any possible claim against a party on a project you have been working with, get in touch for advice on your position today. 

Nicola Lucas

About the author

Nicola Lucas

Nicola is a member of our Business Law Team handling all the commercial requirements of her clients such as shareholder agreements and negotiating on commercial ...

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