Remodeling Your Home? Legal Tips From a Construction Lawyer

We’ve all heard the horror stories about home remodels gone wrong: contractors who disappear with the check, or the ones who stick around only to leave the house a wreck. Fortunately, you’re not completely helpless when it comes to preventing catastrophes like these. The following are four basic tips for ensuring a smooth process.

Make sure your contractor is licensed and insured. Seek out recommendations from people who have had a good experience with their contractor; chances are those contractors will be licensed and insured. In Utah, you can check your contractor’s license here. Not only is it illegal for a contractor to work without a license, but he or she must be insured to qualify for one. Using an insured contractor helps ensure that your contractor will be able to pay in the unlikely event of any serious personal injuries or damage to your property. Third, using a licensed contractor is a requirement to access a benefit known as the lien recovery fund, which may protect you from lien claims made your property in the event that your contractor hires subcontractors and fails to pay them.

Read your contract carefully. Having a written contract regarding your remodel project helps prevent future disputes (and is another requirement to access the Utah lien recovery fund). If your contractor says he or she doesn’t have a written contract, you could write your own and have the contractor sign it. At a minimum, a contract should include your name and the contractors name, describe the work the contractor is going to do, establish a price, and be signed. Other terms to consider include work scheduling, how to deal with unexpected problems (if you’ve ever remodeled or watch a fixer-upper show, you know what I’m talking about), how to handle changes in design, how to handle disputes between you and your contractor, who is responsible for permitting, and any warranties. If your contractor does have a contract, make sure to review it carefully, especially if it is long (because longer contracts may signal that a contractor is shifting more construction risks to you).

Get a building permit. Permits ensure that your work is performed to current codes. To save time or money, homeowners often skip the permitting process. The consequences of doing so could include: paying a fine; having to redo work that was performed incorrectly; and health and safety risks. Not only that, but it may create problems with the future sale of your home. This is due to the fact that you will likely be required to disclose the unpermitted work when you sell the home, and it is completely reasonable for a buyer to demand to have such work inspected and brought up to code prior to a purchase–at your expense. In short, choosing not to permit is a lose-lose decision.

Work first, pay later. It is common in the industry for contractors to perform the work first, and receive payment after it is done. Sometimes your contractor may require a materials deposit, which is an item you can negotiate. Whatever arrangements you make, be sure that you have arranged financing for the project before you sign a contract or begin work.

The process can be overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to go at it alone. Any experienced construction lawyer can help you write a contract of your own, review your contractor’s, or help you with any disputes you may be having. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at the number listed below.

Skoubye, Nielson, Johansen Attorneys Salt Lake City Utah
Mark B. Thornton

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