The Contractor and Unreasonable Delay
We have all heard how construction/renovation projects take longer than we think they will. How you're lucky if they're done by a certain date. How you should be thrilled if your contractor actually shows up. The question is, when is delay par for the course, and when does it rise to the level of unreasonable or become actionable (resulting in an actual claim against the contractor)?
Of course, the place to start with all of this is the actual contract. Homeowners and contractors should spell out how often the workers will be on site and for how many hours. There should be minimums, and everyone should be clear about managing expectations. As an aside, a person should always be designated as the point person for the job when the contractor is not on site. Both sides should know what that person's authority is, and how to reach the GC if that person is not authorized to make decisions.
What should a homeowner do, however, when it is clear the project is not on track; that it will not be finished anywhere near the completion date listed in the contract?
The answer is quite straightforward, but it does not usually occur to homeowners to try to work things out with the contractor. They feel helpless and like sitting ducks with a home that is fully gutted. The homeowner should request a meeting with the contractor. They should sit down with a calendar and map out work to be done each week with specific dates of completion. The deadlines should be short so the homeowner will know right away if the contractor is going to follow through. Then, there should be a penalty built into the agreement. If the contractor breaches the agreement, there should be an understanding that there is a monetary penalty, and/or that the contractor is in breach and that the homeowner has the right to terminate the contract. It should be stated that this addendum is now incorporated into the contract. Both parties should then sign off on the agreement.
In this way, the homeowner can take back control over her project. The contractor will no longer have free reign over when and if he shows up. The homeowner will know that he will win no matter what, because the work will either be completed, or, the homeowner can terminate the contract without fearing repercussions for illegal termination.
Additional factors to consider may include stating who will show up and when, whether intermittent inspections will occur, and what kind of damages will ensue if the work is found to be substandard. Substandard work and delay frequently go hand in hand, but that is fodder for another posting.