Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Home Contractor Problems-What to Do Before You Call a Lawyer

Today I was speaking with a potential new client, and it occurred to me that many homeowners have no idea what to do when they have problems with a contractor. They feel helpless as the contractor has control over what is happening to their home, and they do not know how to deal with the situation when a contractor is doing poor quality work.

There are some things a homeowner can do that will help a lawyer understand the details of the situation. First of all, if there have not been any inspections done, the homeowner should call the local building inspector and ask him or her to come and evaluate the work. If work is not up to code, that strengthens the homeowner's case and let's him know if work needs to be re-done.

In addition, the homeowners should call contractors to come and give quotes for the cost of completing the job. This is one way of determining the amount of damages, and helps a lawyer decide the right approach to the claim. If a job was supposed to cost $100,000 originally and the homeowner has paid $90,000, and a contractor gives a quote of $40,000 to complete the work, the claim would be for $30,000 (forty thousand less the ten thousand not yet paid).

Clearly new contractors frequently criticize the work that was done previously, but this is why it is a good idea to get two or three quotes. When more than one person states that quality is poor, and work needs to be re-done it bolsters a claim against the contractor.

Once the homeowners are armed with information, they will feel more empowered and ready to deal with the problem. Having an outside party verify one's sense of the situation is a good way to start.

Then, find a lawyer who is familiar with these kinds of cases, and discuss your options.

Landscape Design and Construction - How to Work with a Design Professional

Here is a guest post from Michael Radner, Landscape Architect:

There are many reasons to improve the landscape around us. Many studies have determined that shoppers spend more time and money in stores shaded by street trees. Property values of single family or multi-family homes are as much as 15% higher when they are set in well-designed, well-maintained landscapes. Test scores go up when school classrooms have visual access to trees and open space. The mental and physical health benefits of healing gardens in hospitals is well documented, and even crime is reduced in neighborhoods planted with trees.

Yet many home and business owners don’t know how to get started when the need or desire for landscape improvements hits. There are three basic options for those who don’t want a “do it yourself” job.

1. Hire a “Design/Build” company to take you from design through construction. This is an attractive option, as it gives the consumer or builder a one stop shop for services. These are primarily landscape construction companies that employ landscape designers or landscape architects on staff, or on a consulting basis. The company may charge a nominal fee, or nothing at all for design services if you contract with them through construction. In reality, one pays for the design through increased construction fees, so despite appearances you may not be saving money. The company’s motives are obviously to maximize profits and sell more landscaping, not necessarily to look out for the owner’s best interest. On the plus side, the owner can potentially save valuable time by hiring design and construction services at once, cutting out the time for bidding and hiring a General Contractor. A good Design/Build firm will also provide insight into the construction process early on, saving time, money, and aggravation later.

2. Hire a landscape designer for design services. Landscape Designers come in many shapes and colors. Many are quite talented, have years of design experience, a degree or certificate in landscape design, beautiful portfolios and many happy customers. I find that landscape designers are more comfortable with smaller residential projects versus larger luxury residences or commercial projects. Many other providers may not have the prerequisite training or experience to provide the proper services that will protect the health, safety and welfare of their clients, and the public. There are no state laws or statutes that govern the practice of landscape designers. Make sure you check their credentials and speak with former customers before hiring them.

3. Retain a Landscape Architect for design services. LA’s are registered professionals, exactly like Architects and Engineers. They have a duty under law to provide for the health, safety and welfare of their clients and the public. The vast majority of LA’s are degreed professionals, with Bachelor’s or Master’s Degrees in their field. They are also covered by professional liability insurance, commonly known as “errors and omissions” insurance. This is not always indicative of the quality of the design work, but does ensure a minimal degree of professional competency through the completion of licensure (which is achieved through several years of apprenticeship and a rigorous, multi-day written exam). LA’s are typically involved in larger residential sites, and commercial or civic projects such as multi-family developments, parks and recreation facilities, or retail sites. As such, they will be familiar with local and state environmental statutes that may impact construction, and can guide the client through any permitting processes. They also are used to working with allied professionals, such as Architects, Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineers. LA’s will usually have ASLA or RLA after their name, indicating membership in the American Society of Landscape Architects, or “Registered Landscape Architect”.

Of course, when hiring any design professional or contractor, check references, licensure and the State for any complaints.

Radner Design, Inc.
215 Boston Post Road, Sudbury, MA 01776
ph: 978.443.9679 fax: 978.443.4636
e: mradner@radnerdesign.com
web: www.radnerdesign.com

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Suing a Builder in Massachusetts

Most of the posts from the homeowner side in this blog involve renovations or additions. As such most of these disputes involve contractors who are covered by the Home Improvement Contractor Law, or M.G.L. (Massachusetts General Laws) c. 142A. What should a homeowner do, however, if he or she is involved in a dispute with a builder?

As I have said so many times before, a good contract should actually prevent disputes and spell out the procedure for dealing with problems before they arise. Unfortunately, builders and homeowners alike often undertake large projects without consulting with a lawyer (who focuses on these things) and they then suffer the consequences when a disagreement occurs.

If homeowners develop problems with their builders, they should start off with a demand letter outlining the problem, and the solution that they would prefer. If the claim is in Massachusetts, the demand letter should be under the Consumer Protection statute.

If the issue cannot be resolved, then the parties can consider mediation, arbitration or ultimately filing suit. A lawsuit should always be the last resort. Lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining. If a lawsuit is going to be filed, then one has to make sure that a judgment would actually be collectible by securing an asset (an attachment of real estate for example) in advance, if possible.

As always prevention is the best alternative. Doing one's homework by finding a good builder (the Builder's Association of Greater Boston-BAGB-www.bagb.org), drafting a good contract and keeping the lines of communication open will make for a positive experience.

The Blue Book-Contractors and Subcontractors

I recently attended the annual showcase event sponsored by The Blue Book, where contractors and subcontractors can meet and exchange information. The Blue Book is really a book, that lists tradespeople by their professions (including lawyers) and is a great resource for finding help when needed.

The event was quite lively and well-attended, and numerous types of companies were represented. For example, there was a construction company whose specialty is constructing dentists' offices.

These companies do all kinds of construction, from commercial to residential to renovations. So the next time you are looking for a subcontractor, check out The Blue Book.

Here is the website: http://www.thebluebook.com

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Massachusetts Contractors-Beware!

It is only natural for a contractor to want to get paid for his or her hard work on a project. When a homeowner refuses to pay, it can be for any number of reasons, and they are not always reasonable. The homeowner may expect extras to be thrown in without additional cost, or may have standards that are unrealistic. He or she may also not recognize that reasonable delays occur. In any event, contractors will frequently decide to sue homeowners after trying to collect.

However, in Massachusetts, contractors run a huge risk by filing suit. Unless their contracts are in compliance with the Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractor Law, they may be exposed to liability under the Consumer Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 93A. This could subject the contractor to double or treble damages, attorney's fees, interest and costs. So, contractors should make sure, in advance, that they are properly registered, and that their actions are in compliance with the law. In addition, they should have their contracts reviewed by an attorney and make absolutely sure that they are as protected as possible.

This is one area in which it is well worth the expense to have a lawyer review one's paperwork. It could help prevent a major loss in the future.