Construction Contract & Claims Management Podcast Series – EP2: Pitfalls of Suspending or Terminating a Construction Contract

The suspension or termination of construction contracts can have significant commercial implications for developers. No doubt, developers will already be aware that the right to suspend and, in particular, terminate, a construction contract should be used sparingly. But what are the potential pitfalls to be mindful of if it becomes necessary to suspend or terminate a construction contract, or if one is on the receiving end of a suspension or termination notice?

We are pleased to share with you a podcast hosted by Herbert Smith Freehills’ Construction & Infrastructure Group which explores the legal and practical issues arising from the suspension or termination of construction contracts.

The episode can be found on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud.

This episode is also accompanied by a checklist which sets out some of the key matters to be considered when terminating or suspending a construction contract. The checklist can be viewed and downloaded here.

This is the latest episode in Herbert Smith Freehills’ ‘Construction Contract & Claims Management’ podcast series. In the next episode in this series, we will be discussing how to assess the legal merits of construction claims, with a particular focus on claims brought by contractors against employers.

For further information please contact:

Jake Reynolds
Jake Reynolds
Associate (Australia), construction and infrastructure, London
+44 20 7466 2370

Noe Minamikata
Noe Minamikata
Professional support lawyer, construction and infrastructure, London
+44 20 7466 2838

Agreements with Registered Providers: 5 Top Tips

For developers bringing forward any residential development, the affordable housing package will be one of the most important elements of ensuring a scheme actually gets consent – particularly in the current political and policy environment. But while it is easy to focus only on those crucial headlines – number of units, tenure, and size – it is important to keep an eye on what comes after planning permission. Most of the time, this will mean doing a deal with a registered provider, which will have its own preferences as to how the deal should be structured and how the units will be managed. Here are our top 5 points for developers to be aware of.

1. Think carefully about section 106 restrictions …

One of the top priorities of the local planning authority will be to ensure that the affordable housing package is adequately secured in a section 106 agreement. While every agreement is different, they all generally contain two key things.

First, a requirement to build the affordable housing units and sell the freehold or a lease (usually at least 125 years) to a registered provider. This will typically be drafted in the form of what is known as a “Grampian” restriction: a requirement to do something (ie build and sell affordable housing units) before you do something else (ie occupy your valuable market housing).

Second, there will be a restriction stating that the units to be provided as affordable housing cannot be occupied for anything other than the tenure set out in the agreement.

How these provisions are drafted is hugely important. An improperly drafted Grampian restriction, or one which doesn’t take into account the circumstances and programme of the scheme, could unreasonably prevent or delay the most valuable parts of the development from being occupied – therefore impacting on sales, funding and, ultimately, viability.

2. … and then make sure you pass them down

If the section 106 agreement obliges you as the developer to do something in relation to affordable housing – eg to maintain the housing in a particular tenure, or to keep the service charge low – you will want to pass this obligation down to the registered provider. The transaction documents should therefore be back to back with the section 106 so nothing falls through the gaps.

This will involve an analysis of whether it is appropriate for you as developer or the registered provider, or both parties, to fulfil the relevant obligations taking account of the respective land interests and rights.

You will need to pay particular attention to what could go wrong to prevent any restriction being lifted on the market homes – like, what would happen if the registered provider you are selling to goes insolvent, or ceases to be recognised as a registered provider? All these issues will need to be thought about and catered for in the transaction documents.

3. Think carefully about where the affordable units sit within the estate management structure

The registered provider’s preference will typically be to take all of the affordable units in a single transfer or a single block lease. A developer may prefer to retain control over the common areas within the block. This will ensure the provision of services and recovery of service charge is consistent across the estate (but see point 4 below). If the registered provider accepts that approach, it may seek greater control over the management company responsible for the block (eg through shares in the management company and voting rights) but whether this is acceptable to a developer will depend on the number of units and their configuration within the block.

4. Test whether the estate service charge works for the affordable units

The registered provider will be very keen to ensure that the service charge for the affordable units is as low as possible – particularly given that some tenures involve rent caps that are inclusive of service charge (there may also be specific covenants regarding service charge within the section 106 agreement). In the service charge provisions in the lease, the registered provider will seek to reduce the developer’s discretion as to which services are provided and will want wide consultation rights. Depending on the nature of the development, the registered provider may want certain non-essential service charge items excluded (for example the costs of concierge services or an on-site gym), but please note that this may cause reputational issues for the developer as highlighted in recent news articles where affordable tenants have not been able to utilise all of the amenities provided at new development sites.

5. Think about utility supplies to affordable units

It is likely that a registered provider will require that its tenants enter into direct supply agreements with the utilities providers rather than have utilities charged through the service charge (which would put the credit risk on the registered provider as the direct tenant of the developer). Again, you will need to think through carefully how utility services are procured and managed for the affordable units and how this ties in with utility arrangements for the wider estate.

In summary there are lots of issues to be thought through when dealing with a registered provider and reaching agreement with a registered provider on the disposal of the affordable units will require careful consideration. As such, we recommend that solicitors are instructed at an early stage to ensure that the transaction documents deal with the requirements of the section 106 agreement and are consistent with the developer’s plans for the remainder of the estate.

For further information please contact:

David Evans
David Evans
Senior Associate, Real Estate, London
+44 20 7466 7480
Annika Holden
Annika Holden
Associate (Australia), Planning, London
+44 20 7466 2882

Julian Pollock
Julian Pollock
Partner, Real Estate, London
+44 20 7466 2682
Matthew White
Matthew White
Partner and Head of UK planning practice, London
+44 20 7466 2461

 

Construction Contract & Claims Management Podcast Series – EP1: Variations to and under a Construction Contract

To ensure that projects remain viable and achievable, the power to vary the terms of, or the scope of works under, construction contracts can be essential for developers, particularly in times of political and economic uncertainty. But what is the difference between variations to and variations under a construction contract? Although the two concepts are easily confused, the distinction is very important given the significant differences in the implementation and outcome of each.

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Equitable easements – a trap for the unwary developer

When purchasing a development site, it is important to make sure that the site can be used for the purpose for which it is acquired. When it comes to easements, in theory a purchaser should not get any nasty surprises. However, overriding equitable easements can be hard to detect but can have costly consequences. What are they, what is their impact and how can the risk they present be minimised? Continue reading

Beware! Contract Races – Could you be in one?

The SRA Code of Conduct 2011 forms part of the Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook. The Code is to be adhered to by all lawyers – both in-house and in private practice. Sometimes it’s good to have a timely reminder of aspects of the Code which you don’t necessarily come across that often. Of particular interest to investors and developers is the duty that a seller’s legal team must inform potential buyers of a seller’s “intention to deal” with more than one party. Understanding this duty may help when structuring the transaction. Continue reading

Real Estate Podcast EP1: Why mark documents “subject to contract” in real estate transactions and joint ventures?

Kate Wilson and Lucy Morton, lawyers in the Real Estate and Planning teams at HSF, provide a summary of the importance of marking documents with the words ‘subject to contract’ when entering a real estate transaction or joint venture arrangement, as discussed in the recent Court of Appeal case of Generator Developments v Lidl UK [2018] EWCA Civ 396. Continue reading

The Potential Pitfalls of Overage

Overage provisions can be complicated, and the recent case of Sparks v Biden [2017] EWHC 1994 (Ch), offers some useful reminders of the potential pitfalls that can arise when drafting overage agreements and the scope of the Court’s ability to imply terms into a contract.  In this article we examine the issues that can arise and suggest some practical points for consideration when negotiating an overage agreement.

In this case, the drafting did not expressly oblige the buyer to market newly built houses for sale once the development was completed, nor was there any mechanism for the payment of overage if the houses failed to sell within an appropriate time. The parties’ intentions were assumed – including that the buyer would want to sell the houses as soon as they were completed in order to realise his investment as quickly as possible.  However, this did not happen, and the agreement did not provide for such a turn of events, leaving the seller at a disadvantage.

  1. Facts of the case
  2. Decision of the court
  3. Points for practice

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Increased scope of contractors’ design liability

The Supreme Court in E.ON v MT Hojgaard has held that apparently inconsistent provisions in a design and build contract relating to standard of skill and care as against the strict requirements of a technical output specification may both be enforced. This is likely to increase the scope of a contractor’s liability unless express provisions indicate otherwise. E.ON v MT Hojgaard could be the construction “case of the year”, as it will have an effect on the drafting of all construction contracts where the contractor (as often occurs) has a design role.

A brief note of the main points of the case are below. We plan to produce a more detailed briefing in due course. If you would like to receive a copy, please contact us. Continue reading

Intellectual property issues for purchasers of development sites

Authors: Rachel Montagnon, Professional Support Consultant, Laura Deacon, Of Counsel, and Joanna Silver, Senior Associate, Intellectual Property, London

A recent case reminded us that a range of IP issues can sometimes be overlooked when purchasing development sites. Some relevant questions that purchasers may not immediately consider include:

  • Does the development have a distinctive name or logo?
  • Is there a website associated with the development?
  • Are there social media accounts that specifically relate to the development?
  • Do you have permission to use the architect’s drawings to promote the development?

If any of the above apply, intellectual property issues could cause problems if not identified early on.

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The limits of good faith

Author: Michael Mendelblat, Professional Support Lawyer, Construction and Engineering, London

 

The NEC Form of Contract is now in wide use in construction projects. The first clause says that the parties "shall act as stated in this contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation", often referred to as "good faith". What this means in practice is a question of importance for the development industry, both in relation to this particular contract and to the numerous other standard form or bespoke arrangements where "good faith" obligations are included.

 

The extent of the good faith obligation was considered in a recent case, Costain v Tarmac. Here the Court was not prepared to allow a contractor to escape the effect of an express time bar clause by relying on the duty of good faith as imposing a positive obligation to point out its effect. The court commented that the express duty in this case said little more than was previously thought to be implied into all construction contracts in terms of a duty to co-operate. So, whilst a good faith obligation prohibits unreasonable conduct which is without regard to the interests of the other party, it does not, it would appear, extend to informing the other party about the adverse effect of a particular term of the contract of which it should already be aware.

 

Good faith clauses, therefore, do not prevent parties from relying on express terms of the contract. The effect is confined to a restraint on unreasonable conduct amounting to improper exploitation of the other party.

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