When Construction Becomes Destruction: What Are Your Rights?

Choosing and hiring a construction contractor can be a daunting process for both homeowners and commercial property owners. Finding the right blend of knowledge, expertise, and a fair price is only half the battle. Beyond that, there are worries over costly mistakes, lost time, and wasted money when the job doesn’t go as planned.

Many problems can be prevented by researching a contractor before hiring him or her. It’s important to hire only contractors who are licensed and insured, but even then, mistakes can and do happen. The contract is also a critical factor – how specific is it regarding the obligations of the contractor, the materials to be used on the job, the time line for completion and the ability of the contractor to use “change orders” to increase the cost of the project? Also, after the project is completed, some property owners find themselves dismayed by the quality of work performed. In extreme cases, their property is actually damaged or devalued by shoddy workmanship. At that point, it pays to consult an experienced real estate attorney to discover what legal recourse may be available.

Contractor negligence, which warrants legal action, may lead to defects resulting from:


  • deviating from the original contract specifications,
  • using poor quality materials, or improper materials,
  • using substandard construction procedures and/or
  • improper supervision or lack of care during construction.


The results of poor workmanship can be relatively minor, or lead to severe and expensive problems in the structure, such as:


  • structural damage,
  • electrical problems,
  • mechanical problems,
  • inadequate thermal protection (insulation),
  • water intrusion or inadequate protection from moisture, which can lead to toxic mold or structural damage and/or
  • landscaping problems such as improper drainage or expansive soil.


Fortunately for property owners, California law protects against various forms of contractor negligence and damage. Consultation with a qualified real estate attorney prior to entering into a written contract with the contractor and later, if there are post-construction issues, will help home and business owners to determine a proper course of action. In many cases, expensive and time-consuming litigation can be avoided. The property owner may choose to pursue mediation and reach an agreement with the contractor out of court. Often this is the best course of action, since the expense of court proceedings and the time it takes to reach a judgment can be even more costly than the original construction defect. At other times, however, the extent of damages is so severe that litigation becomes necessary. As in most large undertakings, however, an ounce of prevention when initially contracting is worth the pound of cure that is sometimes necessary after the work is completed.



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