Whenever any construction takes place, it involves construction law. Federal, state, and local laws affect the building of houses and commercial structures. These laws dictate road placement, how far back a house can sit from the street, and even how many fasteners hold up a sheet of drywall.
Construction law also helps regulate construction disputes. Construction operators are called “general contractors" for good reason. They write the work contracts that hire and pay subcontractors, the smaller companies that carry out different types of work. The general contractor must ensure everyone gets paid and the homeowner is happy.
A construction attorney can be invaluable if there are issues during the process. Read on to learn how the construction industry handles legal issues between its members and the public.
Practice Areas of Construction Law
A construction law attorney must wear many hats, including a hard hat. Construction law covers many areas, including workplace safety, employment laws, zoning, and environmental regulations.
Some practice areas that touch on construction may include:
- Construction defect law: Construction defects can be flaws in the building or products, such as a bad air conditioning unit. Property owners need attorneys to help with construction claims when there is a dispute about warranties during construction.
- Environmental law: Contractors need legal advice about the environmental impact of a new building. It may affect plants and animals, along with the effect of traffic on existing residents, increased water needs for a new home, and the impact on the sewer and drainage system.
- Workplace safety law: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) closely tracks commercial construction sites. Scaffolding, enclosed spaces, and hazardous chemicals used during the construction process fall under OSHA's mandate. Workplace injuries require legal services and insurance so no issues arise.
The majority of construction disputes involve contract claims. If the client and contractor disagree about the scope of work, the language of the contract should prevail. Legal problems occur if the contract is unclear or the nature of the project changes during construction,
A construction contract should include what work is being done, an estimate of how long it will take, and the names of any subcontractors and material suppliers the contractor will use. Like any other contract, construction contracts prevent surprises during the project. A secondary contract, called a change order, is attached if anything happens during the project. The change order describes the type of change and why it happened.
Unfortunately, not all contractors use good contracts. Some use the industry standard forms provided online by construction business agencies. These templates include boilerplate language that helps avoid litigation. Standard forms include warnings about mechanic's liens and disclaimers for product defect claims.
Without these contracts, a homeowner may need legal representation from a construction law attorney when there is a dispute with a contractor or permitting agency.
When You Need a Construction Lawyer
If your construction project is not going according to plan, don't leap straight into litigation. Most contracts contain an arbitration clause. Even where they don't, courts often want construction litigation to consider alternative dispute resolution before bringing the argument into court.
Construction-related legal matters often involve a breach of contract. Either the homeowner states that the builder did not live up to the terms of the contract, or the contractor claims they were not paid the full amount. Both sides of these issues need legal representation. The matter may hinge on an interpretation of the contract.
Construction companies often face legal action for personal injury or workers' compensation claims. Construction companies, like any business, must carry workers' compensation insurance. Unlike other businesses, they may hire day laborers for part-time work. In some states, day laborers are not covered by workers' compensation. Contractors and other real estate employers should consult a legal professional when hiring part-time workers for construction work.
Government work is a lucrative part of construction law. Government construction projects pay big money, but they also come with many requirements and paperwork. A government request for proposal (RFP) can be several inches thick and requires signatures from both workers and subcontractors. A company wishing to bid on a government contract should talk to a construction attorney specializing in government work before starting their documentation.
When you have any construction law legal needs, a construction law attorney near you should be your first stop. FindLaw's attorney referral service can help you find the right one for your job.