Archive for the ‘Construction Contracts’ Category

What is a Construction Change Directive (CCD)?

construction change directive

The construction industry, just as any other industry has its own terminology or lingo. There are many examples such as “punch-list,” “lien” and “substantial completion” to name a few. No words are more dreaded than change order. Construction change orders are some of the most litigated and disputed documents in all of construction law.

A cousin of the change order, is the construction change directive. Although the names are similar the legal implications are significantly different. The construction change directive may be even more disputed than the construction change order but it is not as widely used. This post will help to familiarize readers with what exactly a construction change directive entails.

Definition of Construction Change Directive

I found a quick definition of construction change directive:

An alternate mechanism for directing the contractor to perform additional work to the contract when time and/or cost of the work is not in agreement between the owner and contractor performing the work.

at DictionaryOfConstruction.com.

To break down this definition, one must look to its parts. First, its an alternative mechanism, meaning that there are other way  to accomplish the goal of the owner/architect. Second, it directs the “contractor” to perform additional work. Its not a request but rather a directive. Lastly, its a directive given by the owner when time and/or cost are not in agreement. This is vastly different from the change order, which has to be agreed to by the contractor and owner.

Basically this is an order to do something even though there is no agreement as to timing and/or price. This type of authoritarian mechanism is prone for heavy dispute.

Application of the Construction Change Directive

The application of the construction change directive is less complicated than its definition. The AIA G714 is a single page document that basically has four sections.

  1. A section containing all of the project information which is standard on any contract document which includes a brief description of the change that is being directed;
  2. The proposed adjustment with regards to price;
  3. The proposed adjustment with regards to time; and
  4. The signature blocks for the Architect, Owner (required) and Contractor (no signature required for contractor).

Once this document is filled out and signed by the owner and architect,  it needs delivery to the contractor for effectiveness. This is a bold and powerful document.

Construction Change Directive: Risks and Rewards

As with any document, whether it be an agreed upon change order or a construction change directive, there are inherent risks involved with taking on new work. The owner has to weigh the risks and rewards with taking such bold move in order to get what it wants. This move could backfire and be costly for the owner and/or negate any damages for delay that the owner may have against the general contractor because of the forced additional work.

Its important to speak with an experienced attorney when dealing with complex procedures on a construction project. Click here or call 504-894-9653 for more information.

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Posted in:     Change Orders, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Damages, Delays  /  Tags: , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Contract Terms and Conditions That Help Collections

Contract Terms And Conditions

Depending on which side of the table you are sitting at when signing a contract, will determine how the collections process at the end of project will go. Contract terms are key to a successful collection for final payment.

A good contract can help the parties by:

  • Lay out the scope of work for the project so that parties are on the same page;
  • Assess where attorney fees will be awarded, many contracts award to one party or the successful party;
  • Allow for penalty and interest terms to add to an overdue balance;
  • Providing for liquidated damages if problems arise;
  • Allow for ADR clauses which can speed up the collection process.

As I discuss on this blog often, large scale projects have all these contract terms covered in the extensive documents that are executed at the outset by the parties. Most of the issues, which can really aid in collections, that I see come in with small project contracts or projects without a written contract.

Scope of Work

Having a clear and itemized scope of work is essential. Each party to the contract must be crystal clear as to who is to perform what task. Scope of work can include such items as who will pay for labor, materials, shipments and equipment rentals. Also it will spell out what work is to be performed and when. The reason why so many projects have change orders or change directives, is due to poorly written scope of work contract terms.

Attorney Fee Contract Terms

In my business, lawyers treat an attorneys fee provision like the holy grail. Its almost like the attorney feels like he has the green light to do all the work possible to collect on the claim. While this may be helpful, courts do not always award attorney fees. Despite that most cases settle and its rare that settlement include attorney fee payments.

The standard in the United States is the American Rule, which states that each party is to pay its own costs and attorney fees when in a dispute. If a party is on the correct side of an attorney fee provision that can mean tens of thousands of dollars for that party if successful. It is a powerful negotiation tool.

Penalty and Interest Contract Terms

Penalty and interest contract terms can also work like attorney fees. They are used to incentivize the defaulting party to pay or the cost of non-payment will go up. These terms are in most contracts that we, as a public, use these days.

Typical interest rates are around one to one and a half percent per month which equals anywhere between twelve and eighteen percent per year.

Liquidated damages contract terms are not favored by courts but they are favored in practice. Courts will not enforce them when used as a single outrageous penalty, but they will allow them when they are more fair and reasonable.

ADR Clauses

As always it is very important to include alternative dispute resolution contract terms. ADR as we call it, includes mediation and arbitration. Arbitration is binding and Mediation is when the parties get together to try and work out a deal. Some contracts will pick one alternative over the other. Others will require mandatory Mediation, then if that fails subject the parties to Arbitration.

No matter how the contract terms lay out the ADR, its best to have the terms in there so that parties avoid litigation.

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Posted in:     Collections, Construction Contracts, Construction News, Louisiana  /  Tags: , , ,   /   Leave a comment

I’ve Received Contractor Lawsuit. What Happens Next?

Builder Ripping Up A Contract Lawsuit

The project is either over or it is winding down, money and tensions are getting tight. Contractors know this scenario very well. The problem arises when a lawsuit is delivered because of the dispute. Many contractors do not know what to do once they receive a lawsuit. This post will outline the possibilities of what happens after the lawsuit is received.

Why Did I Receive A Lawsuit?

On a typical construction project, whether public or private, commercial or residential, there are typical players. These players include: the owner, general or prime contractor, subcontractors, laborers, suppliers and equipment lessors. All of these parties have the ability to file a lawsuit and/or receive a lawsuit, depending on the facts of the situation.

In actuality, you have received this lawsuit because of your involvement in the project and someone in this group has alleged that you are liable for some type of damage. This undoubtedly will be money damages. Other types of damages exist but courts like to compensate with money.

What Happens Once I Am Served With The Lawsuit

The clock starts running! No matter the jurisdiction, whether it be state or federal court or in Louisiana or another state, the time to respond to the lawsuit begins to run once service is made. Depending on the jurisdictions for which I am familiar you have anywhere from ten to sixty days to respond. The usual here in Louisiana is fifteen days from service in a state court, see La. C.C.P. 1001.

Many times if you contact an attorney they can get an extension of time for which to file and answer or other responsive pleadings. This is customary in our business.

Options With The Lawsuit

There are a few options that I see people do when they receive a lawsuit, some are advisable and others are inadvisable.

Hire An Attorney: The first, most logical and most advisable option is to contact your attorney and retain his services to defend you in the lawsuit. An attorney will know the landscape of the Court procedures and assure that you will be protected within the confines of the law. Attorneys are not miracle workers, but they have a number of strategic and tactical maneuvers which can be deployed to protect you or your company’s interests.

The flaw here is that lawyers are not cheap. A good lawyer will tell you whether the amount and nature of your dispute are worth fighting over. Many times its a better business choice to work out a deal and move on with making money.

Self-representation: I see this more and more these days. A person can always represent themselves in a court of law. The Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments have been interpreted through the years to allow individuals to represent themselves pro se in court. The key here is individuals representing themselves. A corporation or limited liability company is not an individual. They are juridical entities, which cannot be represented in court unless by an attorney.

Due to the fact that most smart business owners are some type of business entity, courts will not allow for self-representation. Self-representation can be advisable in some situations, but most of the time it is not.

Do nothing: This option is popular, but it is disfavored and inadvisable. When a party who is sued does nothing, the suing party can get a judgment by default. Once a judgment is rendered against the party who is sued, then bank accounts, garnishments and property are all options for a quick collection.

Instead of doing nothing, if you file and answer or other responsive pleading, the judicial process will take much longer and you have many other legal moves at your disposal.

Other options: – Informal negotiations or ADR clause are other options. Once you have been sued and within the time frame to answer, you and/or your company could engage in informal negotiations with the adversary. I always encourage my clients to work out a deal and move on. This can be with informal meetings or telephone calls. Its always smart to bring in an attorney to help here, even if not for the full lawsuit.

Finally, many construction contracts have some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) clause. Even with these clauses present an adversary may still file suit contrary to the contract. This can be done for a number of legitimate reasons. All you or your attorney have to do is enforce the ADR clause. This can be done informally or via formal court Motion.

Conclusion

Once a lawsuit is received by a party to a construction project, there are a number of options, as discussed above, which can be implemented. The key here is to do something and avoid a default judgment. Contacting an attorney for advice is a smart play, even if it is to decide which of the above methods is best for you.

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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 : ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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