Legal Issues &
The Owner Builder

Let me start out with a disclaimer, prior to getting into legal issues. I am not, and will not represent myself as an Attorney. I am an individual that, Built my own home, and learned many valuable lessons doing so.


The intention of this website is to offer you the Owner Builder, the benefit of my experience when building my home. For a professional legal opinion, you should consult an Attorney. For professional home construction advice you should consult a home construction expert.

OK, now that I have said that, we need to talk about what you need to do to stay out of legal trouble (in my humble opinion).

First, let me make a statement that sums up my thoughts. “What Cannot be Easily Defined Can Be Easily Manipulated”. Think about that for just a minute. Whenever there is any kind of legal, or, for that matter other problem, you can trace it back to a lack of proper definition.

That is a pretty general statement. Now let me apply it to Home Construction.

Before my wife and I built the house that we are in now, we had a general contractor build us a home. From the very beginning it was a little screwy. We signed a contract after our Attorney reviewed it, and thought everything would go fine.

It took 4 months for the General Contractor to break ground. He had every excuse under the sun. When he did break ground they laid out the forms to pour the foundation backwards, and had to do it all over again. This was just the beginning of the problems.

Every time we found a problem they required we send it to them in writing, via a change order. It drug on for months. Two weeks after the General finally got rolling my house sold that I was living in, and we had to move into an apartment. What a nightmare it became. I could go on but I want to make a point.

Why did all this happen? Was it because I choose a bad General Contractor? Not so, he was one of the best in the area. It happened because I did not define the project in writing to the General Contractor before signing a anything!

My main complaint was not all the mistakes, but all the time it took to get started, and complete the project. If I had put in writing a start date, and a completion date with a penalty, it would have gone much better. What happened was the General Contractor got really busy, and instead of turning down work he just delayed it.

Let me be more specific to building your own home. When I built my home I had a detailed job description and a contract with every Contractor. We both knew what was expected of each other, and when it was expected to be done.

If there was a problem we could go back and look at the expectations that we had both agreed upon. Many times I was told by the Contractors that this, or that, would be extra. All I had to do was pull out the paperwork, and viola it was there. This paperwork goes both ways, there were occasions that I was wrong and it was extra. The main reason for defining everything as precisely as possible, is to ward of confusion. When you, and your Contractor get at odds it becomes a nightmare.

We need to talk a little about mechanics liens. It is very easy in most areas for a Contractor to get a Mechanics Lien against a builder or owner for non-payment. This procedure has been put in place to protect the Contractors from unscrupulous builders that will not pay properly.

Liens can stop you from closing on your property until they are satisfied! Every time you give a Contractor any money, you need to get a lien release signed by the contractor. Never pay in cash, and never pay one of his or her workers, ever!

Why not cash? You have no record of payment. Why a lien release? By signing it the Contractor acknowledges that he has been paid in full to the date signed. Why not pay the Contractors worker? Because, the Contractor can say he never got the check.

Never let a Contractor Sub-Contract the work he has agreed to do. Each Contractor must be responsible for the work he starts. If a Sub comes in and does work, and the Contractor does not pay him, the Sub has a legal claim to place a lien on your property. What is this all about you ask?

Let me boil it down to one basic statement. You the Owner are responsible to pay for any work done on your property. Be careful here, many homebuilders have gotten into trouble this way.

What is the best way to proceed?

Choose you contractors very carefully. Go back to the Building Contrctor Page.

Do your research utilizing the search engines, to select the best contractors. Remember, we select three that meet our minimum criteria, Bonded, Insured, No BBB problems etc… Go back and do your research and avoid 99% of the problems.

Define your expectations in writing. Sign a contract that is legal for your area. Use a valid Lien release for your area. Unless you are an Attorney, or know one with intimate knowledge of the building trade in your area, you need to seek out professional advice on the proper legal documents, and the execution of those documents.

For more information on Legal Issue visit our Legal Knowledge Center.

For more Information on Building Your Own Home Go to Our Building Knowledge Center.

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