Construction Dispute Law in District of Columbia

When a property owner and a general contractor contract for a construction project to take place on some property in Washington, District of Columbia, whether it's a house, some landscaping, or a remodeling project, there is always a gamble that something can go wrong. In fact, at least a very minor setback may be more likely than not.

Most often, the owners of land and contractors can end disagreements before they get too serious, thus eliminating the need for litigation. Most contracts governing construction projects have built-in remedies for the most common problems, typically requiring the party that causes a delay or other problem to pay the other party a set fee.

Even if disagreements can't be resolved amongst the parties to the contract, they don't need to take their dispute into the court system. For instance, construction contracts typically call for mediation or arbitration before any disputes are resolved by the courts. Mediation is a process by which a third party serves as a sort of intermediary in settlement negotiations between the parties to the contract. The mediator can help keep negotiations on track, and suggest possible solutions the parties might not have thought of. The mediator can't issue a binding decision, however. Arbitration is a procedure through which the parties agree to have their dispute resolved by a third party, which can render a binding decision. Arbitration can be quicker and cheaper than litigation, and it has some other advantages, as well.

Construction Dispute litigation in Washington, District of Columbia is typically time-consuming and expensive. But it is sometimes necessary, typically as a last resort.

Examples of Construction Disputes That Might Lead to Litigation in Washington, District of Columbia

Major Delays: If the contractor or a subcontractor is at fault in causing a considerable delay to a project (several months, for example), this may lead to a lawsuit. If the contract stated that time was of the essence for some reason (maybe the project was a new store that the owner hoped to open before the holiday shopping season, for example), a court can typically award the owner any damages that were caused by the delay.

Refusal to Pay: Contractors can be on the other side of legal disagreements, as well. Sometimes, the landowners who hired them refuse to pay. This is typically because the landowner believes that the contractor didn't perform under the terms of the contract, or that the work was unsatisfactory. If this is the case, it may ultimately be up to a court to decide who is right. If the contractor did, in fact, do poor work, the landowner will be excused, at least in part, from his duty to pay. If, on the other hand, the work was satisfactory, the court will order the landowner to pay the contract price immediately, and may award further damages if the refusal to pay was done in bad faith, or if it caused foreseeable economic harm to the contractor.

Subcontractors: With big construction projects, contractors typically hire other, smaller contractors to do some of the work for them. This is typically work of a specialized nature, which the general contractor isn't equipped to handle (such as plumbing or electrical wiring). The general contractor is the one who is responsible for the satisfactory completion of the project. If a subcontractor makes a mistake, or causes a delay, the general contractor is ultimately liable to the person who hired them. Nonetheless, if they are sued for the mistakes of a subcontractor, and lose, they can then sue the subcontractor to recover their losses.

Mechanic's Lien: When a contractor wins a case against a client for nonpayment of the contract price, and the client still declines to pay, there is a problem: a monetary judgment means next to nothing if it can't be enforced. To solve this problem, the mechanic's lien has been developed. Typically, if a landowner refuses to pay a contractor, even in the face of a court order, the court can force a sale of the property that the contractor worked on, along with all the improvements on it, and then give the funds to the contractor, to secure payment.

Can a Washington, District of Columbia Attorney Help?

Disputes over construction delays or defects can be extremely taxing. Therefore, getting an efficient Washington, District of Columbia real estate attorney might mean the difference between success or failure in your business ventures.