Archive for the ‘Construction Contracts’ Category

Get An Attorney To Read Your Construction Contract – Every Time

read-construction-contract

At the start of every construction project you sign a stack of papers that will dictate your success or failure on the project: the construction contract.  The contract may be short and sweet, or it may be a mountain of paperwork that not only includes its own provisions but also cites provisions in other paperwork stacks.

Construction contracts are historically confusing documents and they contain a bunch of popular provisions with confusing interpretations like pay when paid clauses, indemnity provisions, claim notice requirements, and more. Plus, the provision may mean one thing under one state law and something completely different under another state’s law.

What can you do?

Get An Attorney To Review Every Contract

Last year, Seth Smiley wrote an article on our blog suggesting that with construction contracts you should “pay now to save later.” The point of this title and article simply underscored the importance of spending a little time with the contract language at the very start of the projects.

Perhaps your company actually pays money for an attorney to review the contract, or maybe they pay by putting in some quality time to review the document themselves. Whatever the case, it’s important to give construction contracts serious review before starting to work underneath it.

Having an attorney review your construction contract does not need to be complicated. In fact, here at Wolfe Law Group, we offer a flat fee for contract review services. Provide the contract documents to us, and we’ll turn around a review in a day or two. The review will include an opinion letter that sets forth two major things:

  • Provisions that should be concerning and perhaps changed (i.e. Alerts)
  • Provisions that require you to perform certain actions during the course of the project (i.e. Notification Lists)
  • Answers to any specific questions you may have

Having an attorney review your contract at the onset of a project will give your company peace of mind about their duties under the terms, and will help your company avoid bad situations.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of The Contract

It’s unfortunate, but a lot of companies spend a great deal of time preparing their bid and selling their company to get a project. When they finally get the job, the salesperson, estimator, or business owner is ecstatic and just wants to get started. That’s understandable, but don’t allow the owner or general contractor to take advantage of your position and pass you a construction contract that is one-sided against you.

A strong contract that has provisions to the owner’s or general contractor’s favor can be crushing to a business in the event of a dispute, payment delay, or more.

Don’t let your excitement or desire for the project get ahead of you. General contractors and owners will negotiate a contract with you, and they expect push back on certain terms. If you allow them to roll over your company, however, they will.

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Getting Paid – Notice of Contract Filing

English: Discussion about the text Français : ...

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So you’ve completed your work but now you’re running into problems getting paid for the job. As most people in that situation are aware, the Private Works Act (should that be the applicable act) provides very specific instructions for preserving your claims and privileges in this situation. In common terms, the PWA allows you to lien property in order to secure your right to payment. What many people do not know, however, is that there are very specific limitations on this preservation of rights. The subject discussed here is one such limitation: the requirement of filing a notice of contract for certain projects. The notice of contract filing is important because, depending on the amount of the contract, the filing date will determine the time period in which one can file a lien. It is a rather nuanced area of the law, but here we’ll break it down piece by piece.

What is a Notice of Contract?

When the homeowner and the contractor execute a contract, in order for certain parties to later preserve their claims and privileges, a notice of contract must be filed with the mortgage office in the parish where the work is being performed. Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4831. The information required to be contained in the notice is outlined in Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4811, and includes: the signatures of the owner and the contractor; the legal property description of the immovable where work is being performed’ the parties to the contract and their mailing addresses; the price; when payment of that price is to be received; and a general description of the work to be done. When information is omitted, the notice will only be found improper if that incorrect or omitted information is either the parties and their addresses or if the immovable is incorrectly identified. In those two scenarios, the notice of contract will be deemed improperly filed.

An important element in determining just what the notice of contract is is also a discussion of what it is not. The notice of contract is not the contract document! When you look through the PWA, the above is the only required information that must be submitted as a “notice of contract.” Depending on the scope of work, the notice of contract might only be one page long! Why is this important? The short answer: money. Let’s use Orleans Parish as an example. In Orleans Parish, filing a notice of contract will cost you $60 for the first two pages and $13 for each page thereafter. If parties were required to file the contract as opposed to a notice of contract, they would be on the hook for hundreds of dollars just in filing fees. In paring down the information needed for the notice, though, the filing can be extraordinarily cheaper.

Why File a Notice of Contract?

The filing of the notice of contract is important because it will help determine when the tolling period begins for filing liens. This is where matters become complicated. First, we must understand that there are numerous parties involved and affected by the filing of the notice. Most straightforward is the contractor. If a contractor does not file a notice of contract for projects that exceed $25,000.00, then that contractor loses his right to later file a lien. La. R.S. 9:4811. Therefore, if the contractor wants to retain the rights granted to him by the PWA, on projects of a certain sum, the notice of contract must be filed before work begins, which is defined by Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4820. If the contractor is entitled to the rights granted by Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4801, and if they have filed the notice of contract properly, then that contractor will have until sixty (60) days after the filing of the notice of termination or after substantial completion to file their lien.

The trickier calculation deals with subcontractors. The first part of Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4822 states that when a notice of contract is filed properly, then those parties granted a privilege by Louisiana Revised Statute 9:4802 (subcontractors, as well as others) will only have thirty (30) days after the filing of the notice of termination to file their lien. Note the very important difference between those provisions. In the case of a subcontractor and a proper notice of contract, the time period to calculate your lien deadline starts when a notice of termination is filed and not when the project is substantially completed. If the notice of contract is not properly filed, then the subcontractor has sixty (60) days from the filing of the notice of termination or from substantial completion to file the lien.

What Does This Mean?

The notice of contract, therefore, is pivotal in determining when a lien period terminates. For example, if a notice of contract is properly filed, but there is never any termination of work filing, a subcontractors lien period might never end. This, obviously, greatly impacts the rights of the parties to the contract. However, it is not a simple issue.

The language of the Private Works Act is very particular and phrases and terms were chosen for a very specific purpose. There is a reason why some places use “filing of notice of termination of work” versus “substantial completion of work” – it is because they are different concepts. There is a reason why there is specific information that must be included in a notice of contract and why that impacts different parties. These statutes were crafted with care and intent. Considering how important they are in determining your rights, the safest thing you can do to protect your business is to discuss the matter with an attorney. After all, we’re here to help.

 

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Posted in:     About Our Services, Business Matters, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Mechanics Lien  /  Tags: , , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Construction Contracts – What is My Scope of Work?

English: Contractor-led design-build, architec...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The importance of your construction contract cannot be understated. Surprisingly, people on all ends of the contracting process don’t always understand the importance of the words chosen in their agreement. Whether you’re a general contractor, subcontractor or homeowner, you should be familiar with all aspects of your construction contract. Most importantly, you should be able to understand and answer “what is my scope of work?”

What is the Scope of Work Generally

While this might not seem like a difficult question to answer, it often times lies at the heart of any construction litigation: determining what the scope of work on a particular project is, generally. The scope of work section of a construction contract varies greatly. Here at Wolfe Law Group, we have pretty much seen them all. These provisions can range from the incredibly vague and brief (I’ve seen scope of work provisions that are just two bullet points), to the exceptionally detailed and verbose. Regardless of the length or detail of this construction contract provision, the scope of work section generally serves one overarching purpose: it establishes the duty owed by one party to another.

This is the first answer to “what is my scope of work?” It is the basis of your contract. Without it, it would be impossible to determine where a contractor’s liability  begins or ends. Of course, this is the general “contracts law” answer. After realizing the general importance of this contract provision, we then are able to see how we can manipulate those terms in order to have the most efficient contract possible.

What is the Scope of Work Specifically

As we have written before, the scope of work provision in each contract can, and should, vary. This variation will make a great difference depending on your status in the construction project. A general contractor, for example, benefits from a vague scope of work provision in its subcontracts, but would want specific provisions in its general contract. The subcontractor, necessarily, would want a very specific scope of work provision in its subcontracts. A homeowner would likely want the terms of the general contract to be as vague and inclusive as possible. Why? The short answer: liability.

As stated above, the scope of work provision serves as the basis of your contract. As such, it establishes the rights between the parties with regards to what work is expected and promised. The specificity of the scope of work provision, then, directly relates to a party’s liability. The general contractor would not want to sign a general contract with a broad, open-ended scope of work because then the homeowner could read much further into the provision than was intended. Should a conflict arise, the general contractor wants those terms to be as narrow and precise as possible so that they are not “on the hook” for much more than was anticipated. This mindset is what governs the scope of work determination in subcontracts as well. There, the general is going to want the broad terms so that the subcontractor is potentially responsible for more than they intended. It is important, therefore, to outline your scope of work deliberately and specifically, because it will be a determining factor in one’s liability to another party.

Extra-Contractual Provisions

Rarely, though, are contracts permanently fixed and limited to its original terms. Certain instances do arise where changes are made to the contract as the work progresses. Those become part of the scope of work as you continue working, and will dictate one party’s liability to another should a conflict arise. Sometimes, there are third party agreements that people wish to be considered part of a contractor’s scope of work. I mention this because of how frequently this situation has been coming across my desk with regards to the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

While the HMGP warrants a whole blog to itself (not just a post, but a WHOLE blog), there is one particular provision that I have had numerous parties contact us about here at Wolfe Law Group: scope of work. Through the program, a contractor would execute an agreement with the homeowner which contained the scope of work. The difference, though, is that these two parties are not the only parties to ultimately define what that scope of work actually is! Instead, the HMGP has a separate scope of work that was/is eligible to receive grant payments. This is causing some severe issues between contractors and homeowners because people are not sure what they are responsible for and owners are not sure what they are entitled to. These problems could be resolved if parties paid closer attention to their scope of work provisions.

The short answer is that HMGP will pay for items contained in the general contract’s scope of work that is contained in the HMGP scope of work guidelines. Anything beyond that will not be eligible for payments. However, contractors need to be careful because even if the terms of their scope of work are not included in the HMGP scope, they are still bound by their contract with the homeowner. It’s a very tricky situation that involves various presumptions, but it is a reality. The best advice I can give to deal with issues as complicated as the scope of work is the advice I give all the time: contact an attorney that handles these things. It’s your safest bet.

 

 

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Posted in:     About Our Services, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Litigation  /  Tags: , , ,   /   1 Comment

Joint Check Agreements On Construction Projects: What Suppliers Need To Know

Joint check agreements are very popular in the construction industry. In fact, many folks mistakenly believe that joint check agreements are exclusively a construction industry instrument.  Many folks also believe that joint check agreements are all the same, that there is standardized agreement language and rules, that they offer a lot of payment security, and a host of other incorrect assumptions. Perhaps the joint check agreement is the most misunderstood and dangerous document you can confront on a construction project.

Safety Is Not Guaranteed With Joint Check Agreements

zlien conducted a Webinar a few weeks ago titled “Joint Check Agreement Mistakes That Can Cost You Thousands,” and the video recording of that Webinar is embedded at the top of this post. It’s a great presentation that gives a high level overview of common joint check agreement mistakes.

One of my favorite parts of the presentation comes right at the beginning when it’s suggested that the Joint Check Agreement is not a security device, but is instead a “floatation device.”  These agreements, in other words, are only used by parties when things are going wrong in some way.

Think about when your company has encountered joint check agreements:

  1. Your customer doesn’t have the credit with you, and so you get a JCA with another party to back them up
  2. Your customer runs into cash problems on the project and you look for a JCA to continue furnishing
  3. Your customer gets replaced on the project and the GC or owner gives a JCA so you will continue furnishing to the new party

What do all of these things have in common?  Something has gone wrong with your customer, or your customer isn’t in a good enough financial position. Right from the start, therefore, you should be cautious about joint check agreements. They are a floatation device thrown at sea to help companies that are drowning. They help, and they may save the situation, but the parties are not out of the woods simply because it’s been thrown overboard and grabbed.

The Joint Check Rule Is Shocking, But Real

You likely never heard of the “Joint Check Rule,” or otherwise, you don’t understand it.  Nevertheless, if you’re not careful, you can find yourself on the wrong side of this rule and subjected to a substantial loss.

The rule as applied in California is explained (and defined) nicely by the court in Post Bros. Constr. Co v. Yoder as follows:

When a subcontractor and his materialman are joint payees, and no agreement exists with the owner or general contractor as to allocation or proceeds, the materialman by endorsing the check will be deemed to have received the money due him.

This interpretation of the “joint check  rule” has been adopted by a number of states, including Arizona, California, and Washington. However, these are not the only three states who’ve adopted the rule, and unfortunately for clarity’s sake, many courts have not weighed in on whether they would or would not adopt the rule. This leaves the parties subjected to a difficult legal gray area.

For various reasons, every supplier in every state should consider the joint check rule applicable to their project. Every time a joint check is received by a supplier, the supplier should only cash the check if the amount paid is the total amount due as of the date of deposit.

Yes, I understand that you do progress billing and progress payment. Yes, I understand that this isn’t how the construction industry practically works.  Yes, I understand that your business has been employing opposite practices for years. Yes, I believe that the rule is unfair and ridiculous.

Yet, it is the rule.

Conclusion: Use The Joint Check Agreement, But Keep Your Eyes Open

This article is pretty rough on the joint check agreement and that is a tad unfortunate, because the instrument is wildly popular and very useful for a lot of circumstances. There are a thousand examples of situations when the joint check agreement can be an asset for your company.

However, there are a lot of misunderstandings about these agreements, and a lot of dangers.

The moral of this article is not to bury the importance or usefulness of joint check agreements, but just to educate you of their dangers so you keep your eyes open and avoid costly mistakes.

 

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Posted in:     Construction Contracts, Payment Requirements  /  Tags: ,   /   1 Comment

Contractors Prepare: 2013 Hurricane Season

From his vantage point high above the earth in...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, the Office of the Attorney General issued a general letter from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to the public regarding the 2013 hurricane season. Sometimes, for unfortunate reasons, this time of the year and leading into the late fall and early winter can see a spike in the need for contractors and subcontractors. More unfortunate still is that when we see this spike in demand, we sometimes read or hear about the negative, and instances of “contractor fraud.” Since Buddy has taken the time to inform the public about how to handle these situations, I thought it fitting to inform contractors how they can better prepare for the 2013 hurricane season, and avoid problems in their own right.

Keepin’ It Current

Louisiana has pretty strict guidelines for determining who is allowed to bid, contract and work on a project. The foundation of all that governs contractors in this state is the license. Long story short and in general: you need one (there are always exceptions, depending on the work being done). But I’m an attorney, so I can’t keep it that short. Whether you are an out-of-state contractor or an in-state contractor, in order to operate within the law, there are certain qualifications that must be met. One such necessity is being licensed by this state before even bidding on a project. In my experience, this isn’t usually a problem when people come to us here at the Wolfe Law Group. However, knowing that this license expires is just as important as knowing that you are licensed in the first place. As we enter into a potentially busy season, take the time to review your license. Is it a one-, two- or three-year license? When was it issued? Make sure you keep it current. Your license expires on the anniversary of the date on which it was originally issued. You only have 15 days from that expiration to renew your license without paying a penalty, or worse, being treated as a new applicant.

To all you new applicants out there: now is the time to begin the process of acquiring the proper licensing or registration if you have not already done so. As I said before, any hurricane season has the potential for a spike in business. However, acquiring a license isn’t a quick turnaround. Depending on your status, it could take anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks to get your license. During a time when competition could become rather fierce, this is a delay that could potentially kill your ability to turn a profit.

More important, though, is the need to avoid penalties, losses and lawsuits in the future. The last thing you want to do is go through the entire process and expense of completing a project to then have difficulties with the homeowner and you NOT be licensed. For example, if they decide to not pay you but you don’t have your license, you almost definitely do not have any lien rights under the Private Works Act. If they decide to report you and you don’t have a license, you risk exposure to civil and potentially criminal penalties. If they decide to sue you, well, you get the point. As we enter the 2013 hurricane season, the first item on your contractor preparedness checklist should be to make sure everything is current.

Keepin’ It Active

Less “do or die,” but in my opinion important, is maintaining an active status with the Secretary of State. You would be amazed at how many times a simple search on the Secretary of State’s website reveals that a company actively doing business in this state is actually listed as inactive or that its charter has been revoked by the Secretary. Why? Because people get sloppy. It takes almost no time and very little expense to maintain an active, good standing status with the State of Louisiana, yet people so often let this fall by the wayside. While it doesn’t necessarily impact one’s ability to work or provide services in the state, it could have ramifications if you’re sued by a disgruntled homeowner.

Remember, you are running a business. In so doing, there are certain guidelines and requirements that you need to follow depending on the type of business you are operating. Stay on top of it, or better still, have your lawyer stay on top of it for you. Let’s get back to that disgruntled homeowner from above. Say, the project is complete and, for whatever reason, they sue your company. You’re safe, though, personally right? Maybe. Have you been keeping up with those state requirements for your business? Have you been filing all the correct paperwork every year? Have you been maintaining your accounts correctly? Has your business been operating as a true business, or is it just a front for either yourself or another business? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, you have a problem and you might not be protected. An easy way to avoid this is to keep it active. Make sure you are consistently keeping records with the state and you consistently keep good records for your business. Don’t let the “business-y” end of your construction business lag, especially moving into a time when you could potentially become much busier than usual. If this isn’t your thing – hire that attorney to do it for you.

Keepin’ It Honest

The final note is just one of general good business practice. Keep it honest. When you start bidding and contracting, a lot of times you can avoid future headaches by just playing the game fairly. Of course, there will always be those difficult people you will encounter along the way. It’s amazing, though, how far someone can get (and how much trouble they can avoid) by developing an honest and trusting relationship with the people they are working with. Now is as good a time as any to make that a work mantra.

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Posted in:     Construction Contracts, Hurricane, Licensing, Regulations  /  Tags: , , , ,   /   1 Comment