In a relatively recent circuit court opinion, a homeowner’s breach of contract claims against a remodeling contractor for “unworkmanlike” construction were dismissed because the homeowner would not allow the contractor back onto the jobsite to attempt to fix the problems. In the process of a residential renovation job, a dispute arose between the homeowner and the contractor concerning change orders, specifically, whether certain work was indeed new or additional work or was work that was contemplated and covered under the original construction contract. This disagreement escalated to the point that it prompted the homeowner to send an email to the contractor that he was not to perform any further work and not to enter the jobsite without the homeowner’s written permission. There were no further communications between the parties.
The homeowner then hired a second contractor to finish the work. It was only at that time that the homeowner became aware of alleged defects in the first contractor’s work. Up until that point, there had been no indication or discussion about the quality of work of the first contractor.
Ultimately, the first contractor sued the homeowner for monies due on the contract. The homeowner alleged that the first contractor was responsible for the amounts that the homeowner paid to the second contractor to complete the job, as well as to the cost of re-doing work that was allegedly unworkmanlike.
The Judge agreed with the first contractor, finding that by banning the first contractor from the jobsite, the homeowner had committed the first material breach of the contract. By not allowing the first contractor access to the property, the homeowner made it impossible for the first contractor to fulfill his contractual obligations.
The case is Builders by Design, LLC v. Wilson, Norfolk Circuit Court case number CL10-3765. The case serves as a reminder to contractors that they have a right to have reasonable access to a jobsite to correct any alleged defects. Reasonable access, however, does not mean unlimited access. If a contractor is given a reasonable chance to address any construction problems, at that time a homeowner may be justified in banning the contractor from the jobsite. But the contractor has to be given a reasonable opportunity to be in a position to comply with the contract, if not, then the homeowner may be at fault.