How Building Disputes Wreck Marriages and Lives

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Saturday, June 1st, 2013
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Building disputes are brutal affairs. One’s home is one’s castle and a siege like mentality can take hold when occupants are made to feel theirs is under attack.

Throughout 25 years as a lawyer servicing the construction industry, I have seen first-hand the level of trauma which is often associated with disputes, particularly for home owners with mortgages.

Stress associated with having to rent whilst the house is being built, uncertainty over completion dates and concerns about potential cost overruns can have a significant impact upon relationships. Indeed, the prospect of incomplete homes or homes with defects can challenge even the strongest of partnerships and marriages. Divorce is not uncommon.

A good friend of mine was embroiled in a town house residential dispute which dragged out for four years. Three homes were being built on his parents’ land: one town house for his folks, the other two for him, his family and sibling. There was a cluster of defendants, the proverbial cast of thousands. The client haemorrhaged in legal fees and by the time the dispute was resolved, his marriage had hit the rocks and he had developed a life-threatening illness from which he thankfully recovered two years later. All along, his elderly parents were forced to rent in problematic accommodation.

Needless to say, the stress associated with the dispute was enormous and my friend felt deeply disenchanted with the dispute resolution process. Callousness on the part of the defendants and insensitivity on the part of some of the defence counsel did not help. Whilst the dispute cannot be blamed entirely for his sickness, it cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor.

The bottom line is that building disputes can seriously impact marriages, relationships, friendships and lives. All parties: lawyers, decision makers and building professionals, must keep this in mind.

Property owners must pay what is due when it is due. Builders, for their part, should build diligently and properly. By doing this, both parties will help to avoid disagreements, along with their subsequent impact upon relationships and lives.

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