The Contract Description of Work... why it needs to be specific

OCTOBER 8, 2017

A while back, I wrote about what needs to be included in an effective contract. Included in that list was an accurate and specific description of the work to be completed.

The other day, I received a call from a homeowner who had received a notice of a claim of lien having been filed on her property. The contractor, my client, had installed siding on the residence in question and completed his work under the contract. The homeowner only paid half of the contract price and my client therefore had a claim of lien filed for the outstanding amount owed under the contract.

When the homeowner called, she indicated that the contractor had not finished the job. Specifically, she indicated that she had asked for additional work to be done (beyond the scope of the original contract) and that the contractor had not completed that work. As a result, she was withholding 50% of the original amount due.

During the course of the job, after signing of the initial contract, the homeowner communicated to the contractor that she expected work to be done that was in addition to and not included in the original contract. Because the contractor included a specific scope and description of the work to be completed in the initial contract, he is protected against the homeowner's failure to pay under the original contract based on the contingency that the contractor complete the extra work.  Had the contractor's description of work been general, such as, "complete siding," the homeowner might have been able to bootstrap more work under the initial contract.

When drafting the scope of work in the contract, think about any disputes that might arise during or after the work regarding scope. If you address scope issues on the front end by being specific about what is to be done, you will be better protected on back end from claims for work not included in the contract. If requests for additional work arise during the course of the job, handle those requests with change orders, which, like the initial contract, specifically describes the scope of work covered under the change order.