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What causes construction disputes?

Aug 8, 2022 | Uncategorised

Even if you’re a jigsaw-constructing champ, things are bound to go wrong somewhere. Maybe a piece will just refuse to fit – or you’ll realise you’ve been on the wrong track and you’ll have to start the puzzle all over again.

Now imagine each of those jigsaw pieces is a contract or a deadline or a delicate relationship. That’s the reality of managing construction projects, so it’s little wonder that disputes often arise. And these disputes sometimes turn into lengthy, expensive court battles.

As experts in construction dispute resolution, we’re ready to help if negotiations break down. But, of course, prevention is always better than cure. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common causes of construction disputes.

Keep these in mind as your project progresses, and – fingers crossed – you can nip those disputes in the bud before they start to grow.

What are some of the most common causes of construction disputes?

1. Inconsistent quality standards

In construction, quality standards aren’t just about ticking boxes. Their purpose is to keep workers safe during construction, and to keep the building’s occupants safe for many years after.

A lack in building standards can have untold consequences if left unchecked. If the problems are discovered during – or shortly after – the work is finished, then you risk the building being condemned, as well as some hefty fines. If the problems aren’t discovered you risk jeopardising public safety, which could mean catastrophic financial and reputational damage.

Quality issues can have many and varied causes. Perhaps the contract just wasn’t clear enough. Or, if it’s an international project, there might have been confusion around different countries’ building regulations.

In any case, a dispute is likely. The contractor might claim for additional costs to put the issues right. Or the owner might argue that the contract was clear and the faults are due to inadequate workmanship.

2. Unforeseen delays

Delays happen. Sometimes they happen because of poor planning – not implementing realistic timescales, for instance, or misjudging the amount of materials required. Other times, they’re caused by unpredictable weather events or other so-called “acts of God”.

These kinds of problems are, unsurprisingly, common. That’s why most construction contracts include a provision for extending the completion deadline, if necessary. Still, disagreements often arise around the assignment of blame – and these disagreements can easily escalate into full-blown disputes.

3. Differing goals

Construction projects typically involve many stakeholders. At the top of the chain are the owner, developer and contractor – but this is just the start. Below them is a complex web of subcontracted manufacturers, suppliers and tradespeople.

And as more people become involved, the potential for disputes increases. After all, each stakeholder might have their own goals and expectations. If it’s an international project, they might be used to working under different regulations and in different working conditions. Without clear and regular communication, it’s easy for these differences to cause conflict.

4. Acceleration

In other words, “asking for work to be completed more quickly”.

This is not uncommon. If it’s a commercial property project, the owner might have tenants waiting to occupy the building. If it’s a retail development, there might be an advertised opening date that needs to be met at all costs. For many owners, it’s better to insist on faster completion than face the commercial risk associated with missing these kinds of deadlines.

The problem with these kinds of demands is that they’re often made without adequate forethought. The contractor might have absorbed extra costs to complete the work to the new deadline. If these costs aren’t paid, then a dispute is likely.

How best to avoid construction disputes and litigation

The short answer: ensure your contracts are clear, accurate and comprehensive.

Are you confident that they communicate what both parties need to fulfil, with no room for misinterpretation? Has the contractor spent time negotiating the contract?

This may take time, but it’s almost always better to clear things up from day one, rather than open negotiations halfway through a project.

If problems begin to occur beyond this stage, then you might want to avoid discussing issues over email or by phone. If possible, arrange face-to-face meetings and remain cordial during them. This is because it’s easy for information to be misinterpreted over email and for tensions to rise on phone calls.

On top of this, you could put in place a weekly report with manageable deadlines. That way, you can see where faults in the initial planning stages were perhaps unrealistic or overlooked – and see to it that they’re quickly resolved before they pose a larger threat.

Remember: construction is a collaborative effort. Most people want to do their job properly and avoid conflict at all costs. Disputes often arise because of differing expectations or lapses in communication. Put solid contracts in place and keep lines of communication open, and you’ll give your project the best chance of a smooth, dispute-free conclusion.

Are you involved in a construction dispute? Our experienced construction lawyers are committed to finding a fast, effective resolution – with minimal stress and minimal costs. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.


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