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Building Works Blame Game

A French court has ruled that a builder must undertake the work they consider necessary, and not lesser works against which they counselled their client.

In a case that was recently heard in the French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, a condition in the sale and purchase contract for a property stipulated that completion would be conditional on the seller undertaking renovation works to the roof.

An estimate for the works was attached to the contract documentation.

The works were duly carried prior to completion taking place by a builder selected by the seller.

The purchaser later complained to the seller that the roof leaked, a defect that was not contested by either party.

The court of appeal found the seller and builder jointly liable, but the builder subsequently challenged this judgement to the Supreme Court.

According to the builder, he had presented his client with an estimate for a new roof, which had been refused by them as being too expensive.

At the request of their client the builder presented a second lower estimate for repairs to the existing roof, but advised in writing that they were not prepared to guarantee the works with this specification.

The seller choose the lower estimate, which was used in the contract documentation, and did not reveal the warning given by the builder.

The builder argued in the court that they had fulfilled their duty by advising their client that the repair works were not sufficient, and that their client had deliberately accepted the risk by choosing to save money, and undertaking less expensive repair works.

This was not a view accepted by the Cour de Cassation, who confirmed the decision of the lower court to make the builder jointly liable with their client.

The judges decided that the builder could not excuse themselves by stating that they were merely acting on the instructions of their client. They had a responsibility to undertake the works with proper care and judgement.

It was the responsibility of the builder, in his capacity as a professional, to undertake the works in line with the principles of good building practice, and to refuse to undertake work that he knew would not be adequate.

The decision of the court is in line with existing case law that a builder should not accept aberrant orders from a client.

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This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 07/01/2015





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