Steps to follow
If you feel your building work has been botched or isn’t finished, first work out who your contract is with. This could be the builder, architect/ structural engineer/ individual contractors or a sub-contractor. If you’re not sure who it’s with, take action against all the builders and subcontractors involved.
The law says you’re entitled to take action if the work is not carried with reasonable care and skill; finished in a reasonable time or in the time agreed; and provided at a reasonable cost (unless a specific price was agreed). Any goods or materials used must match their description and be of satisfactory quality. They must be fit for normal use and for any purpose you specifically pointed out beforehand to the builder.
If work hasn’t started and the builder has already breached the contract (eg, by not starting on the date agreed), you have the right to a refund of any deposit paid.
If work has started, you should give the builder chance to sort out whatever the problem is, unless there’s a good reason why they should not come back, eg if the work done has left your property a dangerous condition.
If you buy goods from a builder who also puts them in for you, if they’re faulty or were installed without reasonable care or skill, you can demand they be replaced or fixed free of charge.
If it’s impossible to repair or replace them or the builder fails to sort out the problem in a reasonable time, or the goods have worked for a while before they go awry, you can ask for a partial or full refund.
You may be entitled to compensation if the work wasn’t carried out with reasonable care and skill, or done within a reasonable time; or the trader has been negligent; or the repair work was unsatisfactory; or the goods or services are unsafe and someone has been hurt.
Before you complain, gather together all the paperwork etc involved in the job and any guarantee you were given at the time the work was done. Visit or write to the manager or owner, providing him/ her with copies of the paperwork. Keep a copy of your letter. Explain your problem and ask for a refund, a repair, a replacement or compensation and set a time limit.
If this doesn’t sort your problem, find out if the trader is a member of a trade association with a conciliation, mediation or arbitration service that can help sort out your complaint.
If the cause of the problem is in dispute, you and the builder might agree to get an expert opinion from someone qualified in the field, who is uninvolved in the dispute and who will put their findings in writing. You can share the cost of the report and agree in advance that you’ll be both be bound by the expert’s opinion. If the report is favourable to you, it will be useful in court if the builder still refuses to make good the damage.
If the builder still won’t budge, tell them – in writing – that they have 14 days to sort out the problem otherwise you will get in another builder to make good the damage and will charge the builder for the work done, taking court action to recover the money if necessary.
What to watch out for
Once the dispute kicks off, make sure you keep copies of all correspondence.
If the builder makes an alternative offer, you can accept or carry on negotiating. Be realistic in what you’ll accept - court action is expensive and might not yield you a better deal.
Before you consider court action, make sure the trader is solvent – it’s not worth suing someone with no cash.
Solicitor’s top tip
Only pay the final amount when the work has been finished and you’re satisfied with it. Don’t sign anything which says you’re happy with the work until you’ve had plenty of time to test it. If someone has been injured by the shoddy workmanship, take legal advice before accepting compensation for personal injury.
Getting legal advice
Need help finding a builder dispute solicitor near you? LawyerLocator covers all of the UK from major cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham to small towns in the countryside.
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