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Matt Hanka

Managing Your Residential Construction Project

Spring is construction season.  Are you planning a project?  If so, you may find the following tips helpful.

First, how do you identify a contractor for your project?  Is the work specialized or general?  Have you used a certain contractor before and been pleased with the result?  Or, can a trusted contractor give you a referral if the work is outside of their expertise?  Finally, you can ask trusted neighbors, co-workers and business contacts for referrals.

Is contractor licensing important?  Hiring a Minnesota licensed contractor ensures that the company has met certain standards that include continuing education and maintenance of proper liability insurance – both important considerations. Also, hiring a licensed contractor may allow access to Minnesota’s Contractor Recovery Fund – which is a statutory safeguard that compensates owners who have suffered losses due to fraudulent, deceptive, or dishonest practices.

Once you have identified a contractor, and assured that the contractor has the proper credentials, you are ready to proceed with outlining the rules for the performance of the work – that is, you need a contract.  At a minimum a written contract should cover the project’s cost, scope and timing.  Changes during the life of the project should be documented in a written change order.  This helps alleviate surprises at the end.

When the project is done, do you have a warranty that the work will be as expected?  Minnesota Statutes Chapter 327A provides warranties that cover essentially any new dwelling or major home improvement project.  The warranty period depends on the type of alleged defect.

A builder must warrant that during a one-year period the dwelling is free from defects caused by faulty workmanship and defective materials due to noncompliance with building standards.  There is a two-year warranty that covers defects caused by faulty installation of plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems.  And there is ten-year coverage that warrants that the dwelling is free from major construction defects – that is, actual damage to the load-bearing portions of a dwelling.

Minnesota Statutes also cover home improvement work involving major structural changes or additions.  The home improvement warranty periods mirror those covering newly constructed homes – a one-year period for defects caused by faulty workmanship and defective materials, a two-year period covering the installation of plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems, and a ten-year period covering major construction defects.

The goal for everyone should be to avoid disputes, but what if there are disputes related to the work?  Outside of litigation, Minnesota has a statutory home warranty dispute resolution process.  With some exceptions, Minn. Stat. § 327A may require homeowners and contractors to employ the dispute resolution process before proceeding to litigation. The dispute resolution process is administered by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Choosing a qualified contractor, communicating clearly, and understanding the parties’ contractual responsibilities all go a long way toward ensuring a successful construction project.  If you are mindful of these concerns, you can be confident that you have done everything possible to ensure that your project will be a success.

Matt Hanka is an attorney at the law firm of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith and Frederick, P.A. concentrating his practice in the areas of civil litigation, construction and land use. Matt can be reached at (218) 725-6815.