Traditionally, New York Construction Law sets separate rules of engagement for public projects (where the owner is a public entity) and those that are private construction projects (where the owner is a private individual or corporation). Given these two distinct camps, it has been easy to classify a project as either a public project or a private one. For contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, knowing which rules of engagement pertain to them is essential to avoid making costly mistakes.
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Contractors and subcontractors frequently consult with their attorneys in the negotiation of construction contracts before they are signed, but counsel’s involvement generally ends at that point until and unless litigation arises down the road. Nevertheless, additional consultation with attorneys after execution of contracts can ensure that contractors and subcontractors meet their respective obligations and may confer savings that far offset the costs.
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Are contractors responsible for the impacts of their work on neighboring residents? Oftentimes, they are. This is especially true in densely populated urban areas where literally hundreds of people could be affected by a project only fifty feet away. Some of the principles in these cases are outlined below.
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Construction contracts require contractors and subcontractors to carry commercial general liability, or CGL, insurance and to name not only the contracting parties but additional third parties, such as project owners, as additional insured. Recent commercial general liability litigation, however, suggests that contractors and subcontractors should review the language of their CGL policies carefully because third parties to the contract, even if they are contractually required to be additionally insured, may actually be excluded by the insurance policies.
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Many homeowners who consult with me regarding construction disputes are not only financially damaged but emotionally distressed, and understandably so. Our homes are not only our biggest financial investments but our sanctuaries, and misconduct by unscrupulous contractors that damages those sanctuaries makes us feel that we have no place of safety and, in some instances, makes us worry that we may be homeless altogether. Thus, the question is often posed to me whether homeowners can collect damages for emotional distress that results from construction contract disputes, in addition to their economic damages.
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Like the strings of a marionette puppet, after the completion of a New York construction project, there are various legal theories that serve as ties between the builder and the owner. For the builder, the sooner these lingering ties can be removed the less exposure they face for claims of defects. For the owners, the longer they are able to establish these connections, the longer they may have legal recourse against the builder for defects.
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One topic that came up in my practice recently was a contractor’s potential exposure to liability for punitive damages under New York law. As the name suggests, punitive damages are awarded above and beyond their contract or property damages, ‘where the wrong done was aggravated by circumstances of violence, oppression, malice, fraud, … on the part of the defendant, and are intended to address the plaintiff’s mental anguish or other aggravation, to punish the defendant for its behavior.’ Black’s Law Dictionary 390 (6th Ed. 1991).
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What do you need a building permit for? This is one of the most common questions regarding construction. Building permits are both important and necessary and the failure to obtain one can cause major obstacles down the road. Building permits are needed whenever a homeowner is altering or expanding their current home, installing a swimming pool, deck, shed or more. Building permits are more important than you think, and here’s why!
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Often times in discussions with contractors, I hear many of the same types of issues repeat themselves, and from the perspective of counsel, quite preventable. While not every potential problem on a project can be determined upfront, keeping the following 5 tips for contractors in mind might be helpful in preventing problems, improving business practices, and effectively managing risks.
- Be proactive throughout the project. You know that your work is good, and you expect your project owner to be pleased, but some owners may be difficult or unreasonable to please. Sometimes complaints as to work in the trailing end of a project can also be made as a pretext to avoid making full payment. For that reason, don’t wait for problems to arise. You should document the quality, completeness, and progression of your work as you are working on the project. I have seen projects where contractors were no longer allowed access to the project, and obtaining access to document completeness of work can be difficult once a problem arises.
At a minimum, you should be photographing conditions of all areas of the site within the scope of your work to show (1) existing conditions at the time you begin work, (2) inspection phases, (3) substantial completion, and (4) final completion.
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Owners of New York based construction businesses are more likely to be mindful of construction law issues relating to contract performance and defective work. Many however are unaware they are also under increasing risks of liability in compliance with newly enacted requirements under New York Employment and Labor Laws.
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