Construction Contracts

  1. Educate Yourself About the Project. If you are working with an owner that is new to you or if you are a subcontractor working with a general contractor with whom you have not worked previously, ask others about their reputation. Before venturing into a relationship, investigate the project’s financing and the reputation of those holding the purse strings.
  2. Condition Your Bid. Condition your bid on fair contract terms. This need not be limited to boilerplate exclusions and clarifications. Instead use the bid process as an opportunity to set the stage for contract negotiating.
  3. Read Your Contract Before Signing It. Even if the contract appears to be a standard AIA or Consensus Doc, read it. Scrutinize it. Make sure you understand it and make efforts to negotiate those terms that ask you to take on unbalanced risk.
  4. This Means Read All of the Contract Documents. Read all exhibits as closely – if not more closely – than the contract itself. Exhibits can include lien waiver forms, broad indemnity agreements and change order forms that release various rights otherwise set forth in the contract. If you are a subcontractor, ask for and review the prime contract as most subcontracts incorporate the prime contract, plans, specifications and all addenda thereto.
  5. Be on the Lookout for Risk-Shifting Clauses. As part of your risk management practice, develop a list of contract provisions that have caused you problems on past projects. Examples include: pay-if-paid vs. pay-when-paid clauses, overbroad indemnity clauses that ask you to indemnify against the indemnitee’s own negligence or to indemnify direct rather than third-party claims, no damages for delay clauses where the delay was caused by the owner, etc.

Continue Reading 10 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Chances of Getting Paid

The breathless growth of Portland’s housing market has nurtured a growing income opportunity to developers who purchase homes for renovation and resale; so-called “house flippers.” Such homes not only provide potential profit for developers, but also provide turnkey renovations for home purchasers and improved aesthetics for surrounding neighborhoods. However, misconceptions about the flipping and sale process can spark disputes between developers and their eventual purchasers. Most of these troubles can be avoided through better contracting and more candid communication on both sides. The following are recommended steps toward reducing the risk of future problems, from the perspectives of purchasers and developers.

  1. Purchasers

Recently flipped homes offer the best of both worlds: old-home charm with new-home fit and finish. But that blessing is also a curse, because new renovations can mask undiscovered problems. Too many purchasers see beautiful finishes and promptly neglect the potential for hidden old-home problems. The purchase process – when done right – is more complicated for a flipped home than a new home. Several pieces of advice will help.

The first and best piece of advice is to know your contract. In the recent case of Shell v. The Schollander Companies, Inc., 358 OR 552 (2016), discussed below in a post by David Delmar, an owner sued for construction defects in a home she purchased when new. However, because hers was a contract for sale rather than a contract for construction, a different time limit applied. This distinction between a construction contract and a sale contract is far more critical with a flipped home. Purchasers tend to perceive the seller’s renovations as something akin to new construction and believe that new construction standards should apply. This is not necessarily true; a typical sale contract contains no obligation to perform construction services according to any particular standard. Moreover, the “as-is” clause could prevent a purchaser from asserting certain claims later. Continue Reading Don’t Fret Your Flip: Mitigating Risks Particular to Homes Renovated for Resale

Written contracts generally provide a very stable method of making promises enforceable. Reducing all promises to a single self-contained writing reduces surprises and provides a single yardstick to measure compliance. Unfortunately, many contracts today – especially construction contracts – tend to be composites; assemblages of different documents into a single contract. We’ll call this a “Compound Contract” for ease of reference. Compound Contracts have the benefit of avoiding excessive cut-and-paste work, but also have a nasty potential side effect: parties may not know what is in their contract. Thus, contractors and owners are sometimes surprised when they seek to enforce certain promises, only to learn that those promises were altered by attachments to the main contract form.

Perhaps the simplest form of Compound Contract is a one-page invoice or bid with a statement at the bottom that says, “subject to terms and conditions on reverse side.” Flip the document over, and you’ll find a clump of fine print, which may add contour, nuance, or red tape to what was otherwise a clear exchange of money for goods or services.

The more complicated Compound Contract may have “terms and conditions” from numerous other documents intended to be attached to the contract itself, and all of which alter the parties’ promises in ways large and small. Today’s Compound Contracts can be several inches thick, making substantive review difficult. Continue Reading Phantom Menace: Beware of Unknown Unknowns in Contracts

After having successfully recovered, borrowed, or assessed funds for the repair of damaged buildings, an owner, property manager, or homeowners association (I’ll use the term “Owner” in this piece for brevity) must shift gears, and determine how most wisely to spend those funds.  The Owner may not have experience with significant construction projects, and likely must rely on outside expertise for management of reconstruction.

  1. Continuation with Forensic Consultants

If the Owner engaged a forensic analyst to study the damage, continuing a relationship with that analyst through the construction project usually makes sense. The analyst can be hired to continue assistance in a number of capacities: convert its recommended repairs to formal construction drawings, review and administer construction through completion, or provide peer review and comment on the work of others. The Owner should confirm with the analyst up front whether it has that capacity and expertise to perform these functions, and meet with the personnel at the firm who would be assigned such duties. Continue Reading Management of Reconstruction Projects—Tips for Owners and Associations

Statutes of limitation cut off rights to bring a lawsuit after a designated time period, regardless of the strength of your case or how much you’ve been injured. The length of these time periods can vary by the type of claim being brought, and the starting date can vary also. The “discovery rule” – which delays the starting point for periods of limitation until the injured party discovers the cause of action – has the greatest potential impact on this starting date. Oregon law has been unstable regarding application of the discovery rule to claims for breach of contract. Although we appear to be reaching a point of greater certainty on this issue, more refinement may yet be required.

Oregon’s Discovery Rule Generally

Discovery rules in Oregon arise Continue Reading Mockeries and Latent Breaches: Reflections on Oregon’s Discovery Rule

Jacob Zahniser Presents “Top 10 Rules of Risk Management” and Serves on Legal Panel

Home Builders Association of Metro Portland | Contractor Business Management Series – Session I

2/27/2015
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Lake Oswego, Oregon

The all-new Contractor Business Management Series consists of three sessions focused on core areas of business management to help sharpen your skills. Whether you’re thinking of starting a business or are a newer owner and manager these courses will improve your knowledge and refresh your memory. The Contractor Business Management Series is specifically tailored for the construction industry and is perfect for builders, remodelers and subcontractors who own, manage, or hope to own in the future.

Topics included in this course:

Top 10 Rules of Risk Management – Jacob Zahniser, Ball Janik LLP

Understand how your day-to-day business practices can help you avoid litigation
Learn how to work with your business partners, vendors, and subcontractors to set expectations
Understand how to identify and mitigate risks early in your projects

Click here to register

Continue Reading “Top 10 Rules of Risk Management” at the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland

The following is a report from my blog post on The Policyholder Report on November 20, 2014.

The Seventh Circuit just released an opinion in Strauss v. Chubb Indemnity Insurance on November 18, 2014, upholding coverage for insureds who discovered the presence of long-term water damage five years after their insurance policies had expired, and likely well after the statute of limitations passed for a construction-defect action. With this opinion, the Seventh Circuit joins with other jurisdictions that have determined there is coverage for long-term latent defects that go undiscovered for years.

The insureds constructed a new home in Wisconsin that was completed in 1994. They moved in and purchased insurance with various insurers through 2005. But unknown to the insureds, the defective construction in 1994 had been allowing water to infiltrate their home. These damages went undiscovered until 2010, five years after the last insurance policy had expired and likely beyond the time allowed to file a lawsuit against the negligent contractor. The insurers denied coverage, arguing that there was no coverage for the water damage because it didn’t “manifest” until 2010 and a “manifestation trigger” applies to all first-party property insurance claims. Not only is that an incorrect statement of the language of the policies, it is also a blatant misstatement of the law. The district court rejected the insurers’ arguments. So did the Seventh Circuit. Continue Reading Past the Statute of Limitations for a Construction-Defect Case? Try Looking at Your First-Party Property Policy for Coverage.

The Oregon Court of Appeals recently issued a surprising decision regarding the ultimate timeline to file a construction defect claim involving a “spec home.” (A “spec home” is a house which a builder or developer constructs not for a specific owner but on speculation that the home will sell to the general public upon completion.)  In Shell v The Schollander Companies, Inc. (September 24, 2014), the Court of Appeals decided that ORS 12.115, as opposed to ORS 12.135, supplies the appropriate ten-year statute of repose for an owner seeking a negligent construction claim where the owner does not have a traditional “construction contract” with the builder.  The plaintiff in Shell was the original owner of the home.  She purchased the property midway through construction from the original developer/builder using a real estate sales agreement to complete the transaction. Continue Reading And Then There Were Two: The Oregon Ct. of Appeals Finds There Are Two Possible Statutes of Repose for Negligent Construction Claims

Formal design-build agreements are used by property owners in circumstances where a single firm is hired that will be responsible for both designing and constructing a project. Sometimes projects fall into this category by default.  For example, a contract that simply states the contractor will install a bill of materials, without reference to plans, is in fact a design-build agreement—but may leave unclear who is responsible for the actual design of the construction.  This can lead to numerous problems down the road.  Fortunately, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) publishes a commonly-used form for design-build agreement forms, the AIA A141. This AIA form may be worthy of consideration when choosing among starting points for a design-build project – but I recommend proceeding with caution.

The AIA recently published a 2014 update to the 2004 A141 form, and the 2004 form will no longer be available for use after 2015.  The 2014 updated form includes a variety of modifications.  Some clarify 2004 provisions, some simplify the form, and some change the risks and responsibilities of the parties.

Of particular note is that the 2014 form includes a key structural change from the 2004 from.  Continue Reading New AIA Design-Build Agreement: The Waiting Game

Construction contracts must address ongoing building performance under LEED v4 and The Living Building Challenge.

For new, progressive green building development, owners, designers and contractors ought to consider making sure that their contracts accurately reflect the demands of LEED v4, which is already available for projects and will become mandatory next year by the U.S. Green Building Council. The standard, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, continues to evolve toward the more aggressive Living Building Challenge, administered by the Cascadia Green Building Council. In two important respects, LEED v4 adopts concepts which will require careful coordination among project participants. Continue Reading LEED v4: Contracts must integrate ongoing performance requirements