Common Legal Pitfalls
By Sean Rieger

We often see conflicts that are a repeat of others. While every situation is unique, in an effort to help you anticipate the most common disputes, here are frequent conflicts we see beyond defective workmanship:

Change orders or costs. Perhaps no other area of dispute arises more than the determination of costs. Most contracts require change orders to be approved in writing or they are not valid. If so, be aware that verbal changes with nothing more might leave you holding the bag. At the very least get a text message or something that confirms the costs change.

1. Materials dispute: What is a “wood floor”? Is it engineered wood? Is it solid hard wood that can be refinished? Is it a laminate product that looks like wood? Simple descriptions like “wood floor” can go terribly wrong when the customer and builder have different interpretations. Be specific especially in areas that are of high interest to the customer.

2. Boundary disputes: improvements over the line. Make sure you have a construction survey of where you are to build and verify that there are no encroachments before making them.

3. Drainage defects: Build it high in elevation, beware of water coming into property from other sites and water leaving the property. There are duties back and forth between property owners and neighbors as to drainage.

4. Misrepresentation, fraud, marketing materials: Be careful about marketing materials and sales literature not matching what actually gets built. Beware of stock plans or specifications that are shown to a buyer but that are subsequently verbally customized and not documented.

5. Warranty disputes: You have the power to put forth the specific terms as to what is warranted and what is not. Take advantage of that and make it clear what the performance requirements are under warranty. Respond timely to all warranty claims. 6. Earth movement damages: Insurance policies may not cover issues in this evolving area of concern. Best to have your warranty be clear as to what damages are covered in terms of earth movement.

Legal disputes so often come down to basic communication and documentation. Document everything, even if it is with informal means such as text messages or emails between the parties. Communicate relentlessly through simple electronic means to stay on the same page with the other party. Finally, use a broad acceptance and release letter to be signed and exchanged at completion or closing that says buyer accepted and approved all aspects of the work subject only to the limited warranty. Take caution and you can avoid being a repeat victim.

Sean Rieger is the managing attorney at the Rieger Law Group PLLC in Norman, OK., where they represent builders and developers across Oklahoma. Sean can be reached at sp@riegerllc.com.This information is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied on as such. ¦