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Homeowners: Do you really need a contract with your contractor/builder?

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Often homeowners rely on their contractor to include all items necessary in the scope of work to ensure the work is done properly and up to code.  But, what if the contractor fails to include the necessary items?

For example, a homeowner hires a contractor to install a driveway for $6,000.  The contract simply states that the contractor will pour two inches of undefined concrete material. The following summer the concrete cracks and buckles, and water begins to pool on the driveway.  The homeowner hires a repair contractor and learns that industry standards require three inches of concrete, and the code requires a drainage plan.  The repair estimate is for $10,000.  At trial, the contractor successfully argues that the homeowner is only entitled to the contract price of $6,000.  The homeowner could have avoided this result if the homeowner would have included, the contract, key language identified in Brotherton v. Kralman in the contract.

In that case, the homeowners hired Kralman Steel to, among other things, install a brand new driveway.  As part of the contract, Kralman Steel promised that “[a]ll work [would be] done in a workmanlike manner with a quality recognized by the construction industry standards as good to excellent.”

Soon after installation of the concrete driveway the homeowners noticed improper drainage and cracking.  The contractor attempted repairs, however, the repaired areas similarly failed.

At trial, the homeowners’ repair contractor testified that the cracking was due to improper materials and that the grade of the driveway did not meet industry standards for slope to ensure proper drainage.  The trial court ultimately found the repair estimate for $12,796.20 (which was greater than the original contract price) to be reasonable and awarded damages in that amount.

Kralman Steel argued that the repair bid estimate included “betterments”; in other words, the repair bid included items not provided for in the original contract and exceeded the original contract price.  For example, the repair bid included the installation of re-bar when none was provided by the original bid, and the repair bid called for 5½-sack concrete rather than 5-sack concrete.  The court was not deterred that its award resulted in a small windfall to the homeowners, because the contract included key language requiring the contractor to construct the driveway in a workmanlike manner and according to local industry standards.  Therefore, the homeowners were entitled to a repair bid that met the high standard of quality that was originally promised.

The court’s ruling reinforces the importance of including language in all construction contracts which require the contractor to construct the requested work in a workmanlike manner and in accordance with industry standards and local building codes.  As it did in Brotherton, such language can protect a homeowner from a limited recovery and preserve the homeowner’s ability to have repairs constructed in accordance with industry standards and local building codes despite the contract price.

Please note that every individual case is different, and if you think you may have suffered personal injury or property damage, you should promptly consult with legal counsel. If you have questions about thisrecent case or would like to discuss your own situation, please feel free to give us a call at 206.626.5444.

About The Author


Katie J. Comstock


Katie's Status

Katie was recently appointed as a Trustee on the King County Bar Association Young Lawyer Division Board of Trustees. Katie also recently negotiated two very favorable settlements on behalf of her supplier clients in their respective public work collection lawsuits.

Areas of Expertise

Construction Defects, Property Insurance Claims, Boundary Disputes, Collections, Liens and Foreclosure, and General Litigation.

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