1. Being Too Casual About Jobsite Safety
Even the most Responsible Developer knows that the odds are high that their company will experience a jobsite injury. In Washington, it can be an emotional and costly experience. You, as the general contractor, are ultimately charged with responsibility for jobsite safety. You need to draft and maintain a comprehensive written safety program, enforce and fully document it, and fine or terminate workers who violate it. Also, be sure to keep good records and make sure your premiums are paid.
2. Use of Impractical Building Design and LOLs
Avoid eye-catching but problematic designs like steep roofs, small roof overhangs, high ceilings, stucco exteriors, west or south facing window walls, enclosed decks and porches that will be difficult to build and incredibly expensive to maintain. In for sale projects, expect that many of your buyers will simply not maintain their homes, or will make an attempt, but will perform it poorly. Later, when that bad design causes property damage or injury, you will be blamed, not your designer. Best practice is to work with your designers on trouble shooting designs with the goal of agreeing on practical and enduring designs that require minimal maintenance. Also, do not execute a contract with a designer who insists on limiting their liability to their fee. Negotiate a more realistic agreement based on the risks posed for that particular project.
3. New and To-Good-To-Be-True Building Products
If some new building product touts itself as saving you a ridiculous amount time, labor, or money, be suspicious. Vet it with your peers and designers first. Refuse to be some product manufacturer’s test subject. Products that work in the Southwest and Southeast may not perform it the windy and rainy areas of Western Washington. You veteran builders will recall the numerous product claims against cladding manufacturers, Simpson, Weyerhaeuser, CertainTeed, Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Pacific, Dryvit, Sto, etc.
4. Workmanship Defects
Someone very wise said “it takes longer to be better.” That wise person could have been a really good, reliable subcontractor. That is the type of sub you should be contracting with. Your nightmare is the sub that was scheduled to be onsite for three weeks, but completed its work in only ten days, including the weekend when your super was not present. No one can produce quality work when working too fast. You also cannot expect the city or county building inspector to do any in-depth level of inspection of that subcontractor’s work, because most jurisdictions do not have the staffing to do that, and they are likely immune from liability. Here are some examples of defective workmanship we’ve run into recently which demonstrates this point:
- Roofing fasteners under driven and nowhere in the vicinity of the manufacturer’s installation instructions, which resulted in significant shingle blow off on 20, 2 story buildings;
- Sticky flashings reversed lapped at wall penetrations in an entire subdivision;
- An expensive rain-screen siding system where only 30% of the battens were actually nailed into the wall studs. One-hundred percent of siding had to be removed, all for lack of due diligence and refusal to use a $10.00 stud finder to snap nailing lines. This occurred in four different multifamily projects with first-class design oversight of the subcontractor’s work in progress.
5. Outdated Contracts
Your purchase and sale and lease agreements, subcontracts, and supplier-purchase-order contracts should be well worded in order to mitigate your liability. Like building designs, construction materials, methods and products, the law regarding residential construction liability also evolves. So every 2-3 years, make sure you gather your existing contracts and get them updated to conform to ever-changing Washington law, which often favors buyers and tenants.
A good insurance policy can be your safety net, your ace in the hole, and your get-out-of-jail-free card - if you did not go cheap. Before you purchase insurance, meet with a good risk manager or broker who knows the residential insurance market. Put the same emphasis on this purchase as you would for new, high-quality tools, equipment, and vehicles. Buy the best because you want it to perform when you really need it to.
7. Insurance Companies and Claims
The nice person from the insurance brokerage that placed that policy for you with Lloyds of Hackensack Contractors Indemnity Company may not be there for you when you have a claim. A claims adjuster will be assigned to your claim, but a primary goal of adjuster is to find a way to deny your claim, in whole or in part, to save her company money. The adjuster knows way more about her industry and that policy than you do, and if you take her on alone you have little or no hope of prevailing. Instead, you will have to hire someone that knows the law and is fluent in “Insurance-ese.” Yes, in a major claim, you face a choice of two evils, but if you actually expect to get a reasonable sum of money from your insurer, you will have to bite the bullet on this.
In sum, the author hopes you will never actually have to experience any of these problematic building and construction issues. But, like your parents probably told you, hope for the best, but always be prepared for the worst. If most builders embraced this philosophy, claims would be rare and claims adjusters and lawyers would be underemployed.