Photo of Nels Vulin

Nels Vulin is a member of Ball Janik LLP's Construction and Litigation practice groups. He represents residential and commercial owners in construction defect claims of all types. Mr. Vulin was selected to the Oregon Rising Stars list 2017-2018, published in Super Lawyers Magazine. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor.

Mr. Vulin is a member of the Construction Law and Business law sections of the Oregon State Bar, as well as the Young Lawyers Section of the Multnomah Bar Association. He is an active member of the legal community, and regularly speaks and publishes on areas of the law related to his practice.

Outside of the office, Mr. Vulin is a dedicated member of the community and volunteers with several organizations, including the Classroom Law Project and Hands On Greater Portland.

Project owners and contractors often face challenges when defective building materials are used during construction. Bad building products can throw an entire construction project off kilter and, of course, can lead to litigation. Questions for the lawyer can abound. Is the contractor to blame for using the bad product? What if the project owner or architect selected the product? What about the manufacturer? Isn’t it responsible? While these questions are important, it’s often the details that can confuse even the most seasoned lawyer. Smaller issues, such as the applicable statute of limitation or repose, can become major headaches, particularly when the product is manufactured outside of the state where the lawsuit has been filed. Thankfully, the Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled on that exact issue, providing welcome guidance for lawyers, construction professionals, and project owners.

In June, the Oregon Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Ford Motor Co., 363 Or 105 (2018). In Miller, the Court held that when a product liability action is properly filed in Oregon, and the case involves a product manufactured in a state that has no statute of repose for an equivalent action, then the Oregon claim is also not subject to a statute of repose.

Continue Reading A Long Time Ago, In a State Far, Far Away: How does another state’s statute of repose affect a product liability claim filed in Oregon?

On April 3, 2018, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law HB 4144, which eases licensing requirements for construction contractors, especially those in rural areas. Under the new Construction Contractors Board rules, an individual with at least eight years of experience in the construction industry may apply for a new residential contractor’s license without having to complete the previously required training. Applicants under the new rules must still pass the CCB licensing exam, and must also form a sole proprietorship through the Oregon Secretary of State. The CCB will waive the initial license fee for certain application types.

So, why the change? As is often the case when the State and the construction industry mix, the answer lies in the economy. According to the CCB, the Governer requested HB 4144 “to help turn wage earners into job creators/employers.” According to Governor Brown, the demand for rural jobs and affordable housing also warranted the changes. With increasing construction demand in rural areas, the state decided to loosen the requirements for new license holders to spur business ownership.

Notably, important changes to the rules are actually designed to encourage contractors to own their own companies. Under the new rules, an existing fund at Business Oregon (Oregon’s economic development agency) will be used to help first-time applicants with up-front costs such as insurance, bonding, and equipment purchases. The funds will be available only for use by contractors working on affordable, low, and moderate-income housing in rural Oregon. HB 4144 also directs the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission to give grant funding to new, small contractors so as to recruit and hire Oregonians new to the construction workforce.

With the new rules going into effect January 1, 2019, contractors have time to consult with attorneys to discuss licensing and business formation issues. As always, and in light of the fact that contractor training requirements are being reduced, project owners should do their homework before hiring a contractor. A contractor’s license, bond, insurance, and complaint history can be accessed 24 hours a day through the CCB’s website: http://www.oregon.gov/CCB.

Property owners and contractors alike dread at least one phase of the building process more than others: permitting. For many, obtaining a building permit or getting a set of building plans approved by the local building department can seem more like a trip to the dentist than a step toward a new house or commercial building. Long lines, complicated forms, and expenses can be enough to take a toll on even the most seasoned permit puller.

But now, for many Oregonians, the process is about to become murkier. For years, smaller Oregon towns have contracted with private companies to handle the day-to-day operations typically handled by a city-run building department. That’s about to change.

The Oregon Department of Justice and the Office of Legislative Counsel recently issued opinion memoranda stating that private third-party inspections programs violate the Oregon Constitution. Because private companies shouldn’t make government decisions, private building inspection programs are unlawful, according to the State. While the opinion letters are long and complex, the major takeaway is that private companies cannot take over the operations of an entire building department, for two reasons: (1) the Constitution prohibits delegating discretionary governmental powers to private companies; and (2) such wholesale delegations to the private sector does not afford for the necessary amount of government accountability. The DOJ drew a distinction between “ministerial” aspects of building inspections—which may be delegated to third-parties—and “discretionary” functions—which may not be delegated. Full-scale delegation of entire inspection programs, such as electrical or whole-building inspections, cannot be delegated to private companies, according to the DOJ.

The State has recommended that the Oregon Building Code’s Division (itself a division within the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services) cease approval of any new private delegations and discontinue all delegations currently in place.

The new rules are expected to take effect on July 1, with about three dozen Oregon communities expected to be impacted. This will likely throw a wrench into any construction plans for those towns as they try to figure out who should be approving plans, issuing permits, and inspecting work. Smaller Oregon towns are now scrambling to evaluate their options. Towns that can afford it may create their own building departments. Others are expected to form small groups, with two or three cities or towns sharing a joint department.

Regardless of how cities react to the new system, delays will be inevitable. Contractors, homeowners, or anyone looking to construct a building this summer would be wise to plan ahead, and expect delays and backups in permitting as communities adapt to the new rules.