Differing Site Conditions: What You Need to Know
Before the ground is even broken, every construction project involves quite a bit of planning and red tape. In order to build, a landowner must consult with engineers and architects to create a plan for the project that adheres to local city code and zoning laws.
This plan also requires a survey, which means that the construction contractor goes to the land and performs a physical “stake-out” of the project, indicating where the structure will go on the property and making a note of the land itself and its conditions.
In short, construction is never a simple process. In fact, something like 85% of construction projects end up going over the original budget, because there’s seemingly always something that wasn’t previously accounted for.
Things that weren’t previously accounted for can actually end up being a pretty big deal that can lead to legal disputes between landowners and construction contractors.
What are differing site conditions?
The term “differing site conditions” means– as you might have guessed– site conditions that are different to the ones that the construction contractors expected before going into the project.
Some examples of differing site conditions might be: problems with the soil, like the discovery that the soil on the property is unable to support the proposed structure.
They might also involve something like the discovery of groundwater that wasn’t previously accounted for.
Similarly, the presence of mud, rock, or quicksand can pose major problems to a construction project, especially when they’re only discovered once the project is underway.
What happens when differing site conditions are discovered?
The first thing that happens when construction contractors encounter differing site conditions: the project grinds to a screeching halt. If soil conditions are unfit to support the construction of a building, it’s unsafe to proceed with the building process, meaning that the contractors cannot resume work until the problem is resolved.
This, of course, creates a major inconvenience for everyone involved. Landowners, engineers, architects, and construction contractors alike all want the project to be completed safely, quickly, and within budget. The presence of differing site conditions makes that timely completion all but impossible.
Are there different types of differing site conditions?
There are two categories of differing site conditions.
The first, called Type 1, is a site condition that’s different from the site conditions outlined in the construction contract. It involves something unknown or previously concealed, that either the landowners and engineers purposely concealed (hopefully not, but it does happen!) or that they weren’t aware of either.
The second, referred to as Type 2, is a site condition that’s not only different from the documents, it’s also different from conditions that a contractor could reasonably expect to encounter within the scope of the project or in the geographical area that the project takes place. For example, if quicksand is discovered on a construction site where it’s not typical for the region, this would be considered a Type 2 differing site condition.
How can I resolve a differing site condition dispute?
Something called a Differing Site Conditions Clause is often utilized for construction projects; in the event of a Differing Site Conditions clause, the government is made responsible for the difference in site conditions rather than the contractor, company, or landowner.
If you need help with a complicated differing site conditions situation, it’s best to contact an attorney who’s familiar with these kinds of disputes. An experienced attorney will help you navigate the contracts and clauses in order to determine next steps and get the construction project back on track, if at all possible.