Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Building Disputes – Prevention and Resolution

Construction projects and building disputes unfortunately tend to go hand-in-hand.

Usually a case of simple miscommunication, most grievances can be fixed or avoided if both parties compare expectations before any work begins.

However, the bigger the project, the more necessary it becomes to have a formal contract in place. A detailed document – agreed  by both parties – limits the room for confusion, and makes it far easier to resolve any issues down the line.

Here are some of the most common problems that can be avoided easily by addressing them in the contract before work begins:

Creeping Costs

Wherever possible, agree a fixed price for the materials and labour costs of the project. If certain aspects of the work cannot be accurately valued ahead of time, your tradesman should be experienced enough to offer an estimate (and if they aren’t, why are you working with them?).

Get the initial quote or tender in writing, and keep a copy safe in case you need to refer to it later.

Indefinite Timeframes

Discuss appropriate timeframes with your builder, including interim goals for particularly long projects. This can help you in the case of important deadlines being missed (for example, if certain work needs to be ready for other trades), or if the work seems to be taking a long time to complete.

Major disruptions cannot always be accounted for, so in some events you may need to re-negotiate particular dates. Agreeing an initial timescale will set a precedent for these though, so your builder understands the urgency of the project.

Rubbish Disposal

You really don’t want to be left with a pile of rubbish in your home or garden, or the unexpected expense of removing it. Make sure that it’s clearly outlined within your contract which party is responsible for any construction waste.

Poor Quality

Choose a reputable tradesman, preferably with referrals from friends or family, and you should avoid this. Look for someone endorsed by a trade association in their specific field, as these organisations usually vet their members before approval.

Ultimately, the Consumer Rights Act details: ‘all building work must be completed with reasonable care and skill, using materials that are fit for purpose’.

If you have any trouble with the final product, discuss it with your contractor who should come back to correct any faults.

If you are experiencing any of these problems, open a conversation with your contractor to discuss possible solutions. A quick conversation can often clear up and misunderstandings, and resolve any concerns that the project is moving off-track.

Still not happy with your service provider’s response? There are a few additional measures you can take:

1.  Contact the tradesman

As soon as you notice a problem, get in touch with the builder or decorator. A phone call can be the easiest way to quickly agree a solution with your contractor, but you should follow the conversation up with a letter.

In the letter, outline the problem as you described it over the phone, and confirm the actions you agreed the tradesman would take to put the problem right, and when remedial work will be carried out.

2.  Set a final deadline

If the builder doesn’t complete the work on the arranged date, contact them again. Agree a final date by which all work must be finished, and follow the conversation up with a letter as before.

Even if they claim to be busy, their original contract with you must be honoured and corrective work should be carried out as a priority. If they still take no measures to address the issue then make it clear that you will hire someone else to fix the problem, and claim the cost back from the original company (it helps to include legitimate quotes with this letter).

3.  Enlist a representative

If the contractor continues to take no action, contact their trade association, as they should offer a service that helps consumers in these exact situations. If the builder is not part of an association, contact the Consumer Ombudsman, who will guide you through the next steps.

A solution may be achieved by employing a specialist surveyor, who can assess the scale of the problem and help both parties settle building disputes without involving solicitors or incurring court costs.

4.  Small Claims Court

If you cannot negotiate a solution with the help of the Ombudsman, and you have exhausted all other means of resolution, you may decide to escalate the matter to the small claims court.

You will need to organise evidence, such as photographs of the problem, copies of written correspondence and proof of quotes and payments made throughout the project. If you have had the work put right by another contractor in the meantime, make sure to include a detailed description of the work carried out, and receipts of the payments you made to them.

Author: Mike James, with information from:

Brian Gale Building Surveyors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.

Published on 5th June 2017
(Last updated 10th July 2023)