Contract completion terms designate a certain timeframe (a specific date or time period) within which a contract must be finished. Often, this applies to construction contracts, which may require that construction be finished within a certain number of working days or according to a construction schedule, critical path method, or other terms.

Legal issues commonly arise with construction completion dates. There are countless legal opportunities for lawyers who are involved in construction-related issues. As a consequence, anyone involved with construction should practice due diligence when considering how to protect themselves and avoid legal issues, legal expenses, and other possible expenses.

Important Construction Contract Clauses and Terms

One common clause included in construction contracts is a delay excuse clause. A typical delay excuse clause determines situations for which the contractor is excused due to delays. Delays may include the following situations:

  • Actions taken by the owner or their agents.
  • Unavailability of materials or workers.
  • Strikes.
  • Floods.
  • Fire.
  • Tornadoes.
  • Unexpected adverse weather conditions.
  • Riots.
  • Wars.
  • Transportation delays.
  • Civil unrest.
  • Unforeseen casualties.
  • Any other conditions which are out of the control of the contractor.

When determining contract terms, a contractor should make sure a delay excuse clause is included and that the completion time will be extended for any such delay.

Some contracts and jurisdictions will require a written notice of these delays. Some courts will not allow an extension of completion time if these delay notices were not issued. Other courts are more lenient, concluding that if a delay was caused by the owner, or if the owner knew of its existence, then the written notice is not a requirement.

As parties negotiate construction contract terms, they should pay attention to the term definitions as they correspond to completion timeframes. Problems could arise if terms are left undefined. In particular, if a contract includes a timeframe based on working hours or working days, the contract must clearly define what exactly comprises working hours or working days. These definitions should include non-working days such as holidays and vacations.

A construction contract should state that if additional work arises, of any kind, that is not specifically covered in the contract, it will require a Change Work Order. A Change Work Order should state an hourly rate, cost for any additional required materials, and the specific type of work that is to be completed. This might include tasks such as hanging art, loosening windows and doors, fixing locks, moving items, babysitting children or pets, installing appliances, or other work.

Negotiating Contract Completion

One of the common areas of disagreement is over what project "completion" actually means. Construction contract terms often contain phrases such as "final completion," "simple completion," or "substantial completion" without including their definitions. Substantial completion is considered the stage of completion when the project may be utilized by the owner for its designated purpose. However, even this definition is variable.

When determining contract completion terms, it's important to accurately consider the construction timeframe and any possible delays. The owner needs to have a realistic completion schedule so they may accurately plan anticipated occupancy, financing, and other considerations. Although delays and other unforeseen issues may arise during construction, it's likely that owners will easily adjust to new completion dates as long as you keep them informed and have reasonable explanations for the delays.

However, the owner will also want to ensure that the contractor's project completion time will be not extended in a situation where the contractor failed to provide a realistic project completion time or failed to proceed with caution. In addition, the owner will want to ensure that the completion time will not be extended due to problems caused by the contractor, such as a failure to order equipment or materials in time, or a failure to organize and schedule work appropriately.

In some instances, a contract may have no set completion time included within its terms. In these cases, the law assumes construction will be finished within a normal and reasonable timeframe, which is generally determined in comparison to construction work finished in the same area and under similar building circumstances. As there is a high level of uncertainty involved in these situations, it's not advisable or beneficial to either party to exclude a fixed or ascertainable project completion time within the contract.

A contract is considered completed when there are no significant costs or risks remaining.

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