UK builder's mistake; what are my rights, and any advice?
February 7, 2019 1:36 AM   Subscribe

We live in the UK. We're getting our bathroom in our house (which we own) substantially redone - this involved structural work in the floor, knocking out walls, etc and an all new design. It's a big job, and expensive. TL;DR: almost done, figured out they screwed something up under the floor and it looks like they have to redo it from scratch.

We arranged to be out of the house for the first two weeks of the job due to the essential impossibility of living in a house with no useable bathroom. When we got back, it was still unusable and we had to stay elsewhere for over a week. We're now at almost eight weeks (!) and it is essentially done.


The new underfloor heating does not work. It appears likely that it was damaged during the laying of the floor (though some more checking is needed to verify this). The builder tells me that if this is the case, then there are two options: forget about the underfloor heating (and he gives "substantial" discount) or start the floor from scratch.

I'm not interested in advice about what to do building-wise (we want the underfloor heating, but I'm tearing out my hair at the prospect of mobs of people coming in and out and damaging our house more than they already have), but I am interested in what my rights are, including, for example:

* Who pays if we have to stay elsewhere?
* Is there any rule about timeframe, e.g., does he have to fix it in a timely fashion?
* Are we due compensation for the added inconvenience/time?

...and any other similar advice for dealing with builders' mistakes. We're not from the UK, so we don't know what the rules are here.

He has not been paid.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Do you have a contract with them? I would imagine this would all be laid out in the contract.

Short of seeking actual legal advice from a lawyer, Citizens' Advice Bureau would be worth a vist. Might take a couple of visits to get to see someone with sufficient knowledge to help you (they're mostly volunteers, you might end up seeing a more general volunteer first as a sort of triage), and it may not leave you feeling as confident as legal advice you pay for, but it's free.
posted by penguin pie at 2:11 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]

As far as I know, without a specific contract saying otherwise, you're not entitled to more from the builder than either a refund on the faulty work, or the work completed as per the original agreement. Which is what it looks like you've been offered. Work does have to be completed in a reasonable timeframe but if you're worried that won't happen then in practice you'd be better off taking the discount/refund and paying someone else to fix it.

You will need to negotiate how much discount you get if you want to take that option. Given that you haven't yet paid you are in a good position, but if you don't come to an agreement then it's possible he could take you to small claims court (depending on how much money you are arguing over).

You could check your buildings insurance to see if there's anything helpful in that. And some policies give you free legal advice which might be worth taking.
posted by plonkee at 5:59 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

Where in the UK are you? In this area, the law of England & Wales and Northern Ireland is different from Scots law. It looks from previous questions like you might be in Scotland. If you're not, I can venture some opinions.
posted by EtTuHealy at 6:57 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

> Where in the UK are you?

I am in Wales.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:44 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

As the son of a Builder I’d say that a redo at their expense is the standard thing in lieu of anything else in the contract I’d imagine.

It depends on your own attitude though.

Problems are a part of any project - you’ve seen grand designs right? So the attitude of your builder is likely to be pragmatism, and to keep the owner happy enough to pay the bill at the end.

I would personally see this an an opportunity to negotiate how you want this solved and go from there informally first.
posted by Middlemarch at 7:52 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I Am A Lawyer (specifically, a barrister practising in England and Wales who has dealt with cases including home building disputes) but I Am Not Your Lawyer.

As a consumer (i.e. you presumably did not engage the builder in the course of your business) you have the protections of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for any contract entered into after 1st October 2015, which I assume your building contract was.

This is a short and clear summary of your rights as regards building disputes from Which?

The usual position under the law of England and Wales is that if the other party to a contract breaches a term of it (including terms implied by law, such as the terms implied by CRA 2015 that work must be done with reasonable skill, within reasonable time, and in accordance with description) then they should do what is necessary to put you in the position you would have been in had the contract been performed properly. That may include re-doing the work or paying the (reasonable) cost of someone else to do the work.

You can usually claim 'consequential losses' such as the cost of alternative accommodation, but only to the extent they arise from the problem and you must 'mitigate your loss', i.e. not incur more such expenditure than necessary.

I second the recommendation to get advice from a CAB or similar. If the builders remain difficult, it may be worth finding a solicitors' firm that will write a polite but firm letter reminding the builders of their obligations.

Do be aware that if you have to resort to bringing a legal claim, it will probably be several months at the minimum before it gets heard, and you will need the assistance of a lawyer (to advise and assist with the claim, e.g. will you be seeking damages to pay for someone else to do the work, or an order requiring this builder to fix the problem?) Also, litigation can quickly become expensive, although that cuts both ways - the builders will not want to be dragged into a legal dispute. You may want to explore mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution; again, the CAB should be able to help with this.
posted by Major Clanger at 11:29 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all your answers. An update: the designer has told us that previously, the builder contacted her hand told her that they needed to replace the underfloor heating mat because they damaged it. The builder told us at the same time (months ago) that he needed to buy another one because the supplied one was not appropriate. They then laid the second mat, and appear to have damaged that one as well. So there seems to be some duplicitousness here. Now, the builder has admitted that he is at fault, but has not mentioned the initial damage and the reason for the delay.

In addition, we just found out that the tiles we laid are discontinued. We had enough for this job, but there are not enough for a second job. So if the builder has to redo it, there will have to be changes to the design because they ruined the first set of materials.

Ugh. We will contact the CAB near us. Hopefully we can get this straightened out amicably and without too much hassle.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:28 AM on February 11

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