Know Your Rights - Renovations without tears

PROPERTY owners and occupiers undertake renovations to suit their needs or for cosmetic reasons. It may involve a simple extension, extra kitchen area or an additional floor. Although the extent of the renovation may differ, the risks remain the same.

The most important person to appoint is an architect who should be the supervising officer or S.O. in short. He should be appointed as soon as a decision is made to renovate. The S.O. will study the request of the party who wants to carry out the renovation and prepare the plans for submission to the local authority for approval. He will liaise with the local authority and update the property owner or the party who appointed him.

Once the renovation plans are approved, the S.O. will have to prepare the scope of works for the renovation. It can either be on a tender basis or submission of quotation. After the close of tender or submission of quotation, the S.O. will inform the owner who will decide who he wants to appoint as contractor.

Ideally the S.O. will have in his team, a consultant engineer to oversee the mechanical and electrical works and issues relating to the renovation. They will oversee that the renovation has all the required approvals and complies with relevant laws.

The owner should have regular project meetings preferably once a month to resolve issues and ensure construction is kept to schedule. The minutes of the meetings should be properly filed with a copy extended to all relevant parties.

If there are any differences of opinion on the schedule and/or quality of work, it should be resolved immediately. It would be disastrous to only look at such matters upon completion of the renovation. Even if rectification work is required, there is still time to do it. Such rectification will be less costly compared to when the renovation is at an advance stage where the costs involved may be doubled due to the need to tear down or remove the rejected renovation and redo it.

If the dispute continues and appears unlikely to be resolved, there is a need for the property owner to prepare for the possibility of abandonment by the contractor. If an architect and consultant engineer were appointed from the start, both of them can be requested to track the work done and document it to be used as evidence should the dispute escalate into a legal suit filed by either party against the other. One major problem in construction cases is the availability of contemporaneous evidence to support the contention. With modern technology like handphones with cameras, photographs on the quality of work and the progress can be documented easily for future reference.

Normally, the contractor will give a time frame where it is liable to make good at its own costs to any defective work for a period which may range from three to six months after completion of the renovation. The power to decide whether the work done is acceptable or defective lies with the S.O. who will issue instructions to the contractor to rectify or redo that part of the proposed renovation which is not acceptable. To ensure that the contractor fulfils this duty, normally, a sum equivalent to 5% of the contract sum is retained which will be paid to the contractor on expiry of the defects liability period.

If for whatsoever reason the contractor does not carry out the rectification as directed by the architect, the property owner can use the sum retained to do the rectification himself or appoint another contractor to do it provided that the existing contractor was served a notice of details of the defective work with an additional notice that if the rectification is not carried out within the time stated therein, the property owner is entitled to appoint another contractor to attend to same whereby all expenses incurred will be for the account of the contractor.

So the next time you want to carry out any renovation, you may have to consider issues that may take place instead of just appointing someone to undertake the renovation straight away without the required approvals and documentation.

The writer, formerly a banker, is now a lawyer. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com