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Domestic Building Dispute Descends Into Legal Tangle

In an illustration of the legal tangle that building disputes can so easily become, the owner of a flat, who was fully entitled to sack a contractor who let him down, has nevertheless failed to win more than £27,000 in compensation for his financial losses.

The owner had terminated the building firm’s contract during a renovation project on grounds that it had started work late, failed to complete the job on time and had generally neglected to proceed regularly and diligently with the works.

The firm subsequently submitted the dispute to an adjudicator, claiming to be owed more than £16,000. However, he roundly dismissed that claim and found that the owner had effectively and properly terminated the contract.

The adjudicator expressed the view that, in principle, the owner was due more than £27,000 from the firm to reflect the cost of completing the works. However, he ruled that, as the subject matter of the adjudication was purely the firm’s claim to be owed money, he had no jurisdiction to award the owner a penny.

In dismissing the owner’s challenge to that decision, the High Court found that the adjudicator had rightly declined to consider his counterclaim. The adjudicator had not performed any detailed analysis of the owner’s alleged loss and it was ‘simply not possible, let alone fair’ to enter summary judgment for the sum claimed.