What is a Stop Work Order?

C. Mitchell

There are usually at least three parties to any building contract: the property owner, who wants the property developed; the contractor, who is hired to oversee and execute the developing; and the local government, which sets regulations on how development must be executed. Any property construction or land development project must comply with local rules. If local rules are not followed, the government can halt further development by issuing a stop work order. A stop work order is usually presented as a sign or series of signs posted at the work site identifying the problems, and prohibiting further work until the problems are resolved. Ignoring a stop work order often means fines, or even jail time, for contractors and property owners.

If local rules are not followed during construction, a government can halt further development by issuing a stop work order.
If local rules are not followed during construction, a government can halt further development by issuing a stop work order.

Most cities and localities around the world have building codes that set restrictions on the types of buildings that can be erected, safety standards for work sites, and particulars for plumbing and sewer systems, among other things. Before land owners and contractors can begin a building job, they usually must obtain a government building permit that sets out all of the rules and regulations. In common law countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, local governments usually have statutory authority to intervene on private contracts that are not being executed in accordance with the issued permit. Intervention usually comes in the form of a stop work order.

It is usually in a government’s best interest to ensure that land is developed. A stop work order requires, as the name would suggest, that work be stopped on the site, but the work stoppage is not permanent. Most stop work orders last for 90 days. The order will outline exactly what needs to be fixed, which can be anything from safety measures for workers to permitting for additional buildings not contemplated in the original proposal. The order can be lifted if the problems are remedied before the order’s expiration, or extended if more time is requested by the property owner.

Property owners whose projects are the subjects of stop works orders have several options. They can terminate the contract entirely if they assess that the remedies outlined in the order would be too costly. Alternatively, they can do whatever it takes to resolve the government’s concerns. Ignoring a stop work order can subject both the property owner and any involved contractors to civil penalties, which generally consist of fines or, in some cases, imprisonment.

Stop work orders are destined to be costly for property owners. Abandoned projects mean that the owner loses his invested capital. Unless the compliance problems are easily remedied, fixing the problems is not always cheap, either. Owners do not usually need to pay contractors while work on the project is stopped, but the delay in progress will usually delay the completion date, which can mean lost revenue. The delay can also raise the total owed to the contractors, since contractors usually incur additional costs in stopping work abruptly, then starting back weeks or months later.

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Discussion Comments


I've only experience one stop work order in my life, but it was enough. I hired a contractor to build an addition to my house. It was supposed to be a new kitchen, so I could turn the present kitchen into a formal dining area and have more space in which to cook.

The problem was that the gas lines to the present oven weren't installed according to city code. An inspector said we would need to replace the existing pipes and connections with more modern parts before we could redirect them to the new oven. I thought about abandoning the entire project, but my contractor said his plumber could meet the code with only a few modifications. He fixed the problem and the stop work order was lifted a month later.


I watched an episode of This Old House where the plan was to dig up the soil in the backyard and pour the foundation for an extension. Someone from the city tested the soil and discovered it was full of toxic oil, probably from an old tank that leaked. The inspector put a stop work order on the project until all of the contaminated soil could be excavated and removed. I remember the home owner being shocked by the cost of all that extra work.

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