What is Construction Law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Construction law is an area of the law discussing legal matters that come up in association with construction, ranging from contracts for construction services to recovery of debts owed to contractors. It is an area of civil law, meaning that violators of the law can face lawsuits and fines, but not criminal penalties. There may be cases where civil and criminal law intersect on job sites, as when activities like theft occur during construction.

Construction law deals with the legal restrictions surrounding building contracts, workers and payment.
Construction law deals with the legal restrictions surrounding building contracts, workers and payment.

This area of the law is very large and many nations have myriad laws discussing construction issues. One area of construction law is the building code, setting out legal requirements and standards for builders. Building codes increase safety by making sure people install plumbing, electrical, and other systems in a consistent and safe way. It also standardizes construction practices, making construction and repair easier. Government inspectors can enforce the building code and require permits for many kinds of construction.

Through standardized practices, building codes make the initial building and repair easier.
Through standardized practices, building codes make the initial building and repair easier.

Construction law also includes contract law. Construction workers are often in a unique position when it comes to the products and services they provide. Unlike other businesses, they cannot seize property for nonpayment, as it is difficult to do something like tearing down a building when the owner doesn't pay the contract. Contractors have recourse like liens they can place on real estate to force people to pay their bills.

Construction liens are a common way for contractors such as plumbers to recover their money if the homeowner refuses to pay.
Construction liens are a common way for contractors such as plumbers to recover their money if the homeowner refuses to pay.

There are also substantial liability issues in construction, including worksite liability, as well as legal responsibility for substandard work. Contractors usually need bonds or insurance to cover them in the event of legal claims against them, and can be taken to court for everything from failing to fulfill a contract as required to behaving negligently and endangering the health and safety of workers. Government officials can also issue fines for safety violations like workers not wearing harnesses for aerial work, or maintaining unsafe working conditions.

Attorneys who specialize in construction law can assist people with litigating cases related to construction matters. Some firms may keep a permanent legal team on staff to assist with handling contracts and resolving disputes before they reach the court. Others may need to hire an attorney periodically to provide consulting, assistance, and legal representation in court. Attorneys practicing construction law need to be familiar with a number of legal topics to work effectively, and may be very highly compensated when they represent major firms, especially those with substantial contracts with large corporations and government agencies.

Construction law allows contractors to be fined for safety violations, such as improper use of a harness.
Construction law allows contractors to be fined for safety violations, such as improper use of a harness.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

ZsaZsa56

When people think about the law they don't usually think about construction law but it is a big field and more important than people realize.

Construction projects, particularly those that are carried out on a large scale, engage with lots of complicated issues. There is the real estate, the labor, the environmental concerns, tons of government regulations and lots of liability concerns. Any reputable construction firm will have a dedicated construction lawyer to review all of their operations.

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