Phil, isn’t house building quite a simple process, so that it shouldn’t need construction lawyers?
It’s certainly true that building a house is normally much less complicated than a major commercial development or infrastructure project. We don’t typically get involved in the contracts for individual houses – and house buyers will usually get an NHBC certificate, or similar. You may be surprised though how often we do get involved.
Can you give us some examples?
One example is if things go wrong. Sadly, building works do not always go to plan and buyers sometimes complain, with or without justification. We can get involved in helping to sort things out in such cases. We would hope that the parties can settle disputes, but we can take them from initial stages, through mediation or arbitration or even to full court proceedings. Because we do a lot of work for house builders, we are well used to dealing with NHBC claims.
What about the non-contentious side?
We help in a number of ways.
First, we can look at the contract documents that developers use. They could be for the appointment of consultants or contractors. It is important also to check the processes – what happens if you ask someone to do some work for you on your conditions and he replies to say that he will do them on his conditions?
Secondly, we can look at letters of reliance, collateral warranties and similar. Because of NHBC protection, they are not as relevant in the house building process as elsewhere, but they can still be important where a builder sells on the whole or part of a site.
Another way we regularly help housebuilders is with development agreements. For example, they may buy a site on the understanding that they will do certain works for the vendor on his retained land. In other cases, a public authority might sell land subject to an obligation that it will be developed in a certain way. Quite often the terms of such agreements will be similar to those in a JCT contract, but the circumstances need to be checked very carefully to make sure that they apply.