Civil Litigation, Construction

Tips for a smooth home renovation project

By Paul Russell, Contributor

Home renovations are frequently followed by legal action concerning the price or quality of work, but those disputes can often be avoided with careful planning before starting the project, says Toronto senior litigation lawyer Jeffrey Silver.

“Whether it involves the construction of a new home or renovating an existing dwelling, lawsuits are common in the construction industry,” says Silver, principal of Jeffrey C. Silver Barrister.

He tells that homeowners can maximize their chances of ending up with the home renovation they desire by following these five steps.

Talk to many contractors

“Homeowners should obtain several quotations to determine an appropriate price for the desired work,” says Silver. “By getting a range of estimates, they should be able to determine what is reasonable to pay for the work they want to be done.”

Most contractors will provide references, allowing prospective clients to ask to see homes they have worked on, he says.

“If given the chance, speak to those homeowners and find out what their experience was with the contractor. That won’t guarantee your project will work out the same way, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Get everything in writing

Once a contractor is chosen, Silver says a written contract should be drawn up, outlining the final price, a payment schedule, and a detailed description of the work to be done.

“For example, is the floor going to be laminate or real wood, and if it’s the latter, is it going to be oak, pine or maple, and what about the stain?

“In the contract, homeowners need to be precise about the work to ensure everyone is on the same page,” he says.

A schedule stating when each stage of the work is to be completed should be part of the contract, along with the consequences if those timelines are not met, Silver says.

“The contract should provide the mechanism for how changes to the agreed work are to be made. For example, if, during the renovation, the homeowners decide they want a five-piece washroom instead of a four-piece, how will that requested change be papered and put into effect?”

See a lawyer

“If a major renovation is being undertaken — due to the extent of the work or the price — homeowners should consider going to a lawyer to prepare the contract for the project, as they will know what should, or should not, be in the document,” Silver says.

“With major projects, it’s a good idea to pay for legal counsel since you are already spending a significant amount of money on your home, and if there are problems, you want to be sure that you will be protected if it does end up in court,” he says.

Be ready to pay a deposit

“All contractors will want a deposit before starting work, so homeowners should do their homework to determine what the typical amount is for the type of work being done,” says Silver.

Keep records of all conversations

When negotiating with the contractor about the price and work to be done, Silver says it’s worthwhile to keep written records of all the preliminary discussions, which can include emails exchanged with the contractor.

“If the dispute ends up going to court, any such correspondence may assist the court in determining what the contract means and what work was being envisioned,” he says, adding that all correspondence sent during the renovation itself should also be kept.

“If homeowners follow all of these steps, and the matter still ends up in court, at least they will be in a better position to defend their claim,” Silver says.

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