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LondonlawyerJ, Advocate
Category: Law
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Experience:  Solicitor with over 15 years experience.
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A building contractor [sole trader] undertook major refurbishment

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A building contractor [sole trader] undertook major refurbishment work [value £40k]which he either did not complete or which was defective and has caused/is causing damage to my/our residential property. This property comprises 6 flats, the freehold of which is owned proportionately – by means of a management company - by each of the 6 leaseholders.

We became aware of certain defective work in March 2010, advised the contractor who said he would deal with it but did not. This problem resulted in damage to our property August 2010 which damage is ongoing. We have tried to settle this issue amicably, have attempted to locate his sub-contractor with whom the main fault lies regarding the defective/incomplete work but without success. This issue has been running for some time and we realise we are getting nowhere, and damage may now be being caused to a neighbour’s property as a result of the defective work.

My questions are
[1] “does the statute of limitations run from the commencement of a building works contract or from the date upon which defective work was first discovered?”
[2] “for how long does the statute of limitations run in this instance?”.

LondonlawyerJ :

Hello I am a solicitor with over 15 years experience. I will try to help you with this.

LondonlawyerJ :

This is a breach of contract/possibly negligence claim and no one has been injured by the defective works?

LondonlawyerJ :

Was there a defects liability period agreed in the contract?

LondonlawyerJ :

In English Law limitation periods are governed by the LImitation Act and the (sometimes quite complex) case law on the subject.


Many construction contracts provide for a 'defects liability period', which may run from 12 to 24 months after completion. Typically the contractor will be responsible for any defects which arise during this period. The contract will provide details of what will happen if any defects do arise. The normal arrangement is that the contractor will be asked to rectify the defects at its own cost. If it does not, and the contracting company takes on another contractor to carry out this work, the contracting company may be able to recover this cost from the original contractor. In these situations, a dispute can arise about whether the original contractor was responsible for the defect.


However, the end of the defects liability period does not mean that the contractor is released from all liability as the 'statutory limitation period' may still be running. This is the period during which, according to the law, the contractor may be liable for defects.


The Limitation Act, specifies the limitation periods which apply in relation to what it terms 'simple contracts' and deeds. The Limitation Act allows actions for breach of contract and tort, such as negligence, to be brought within a period of six years under a simple contract and twelve years if the contract is executed as a more formal deed. Under English law, a 'simple' contract is one which is executed with one signature only. A deed is a contract or document executed with higher formalities than a single signature - for example, a contract that must be signed by two directors on behalf of a company.


Unless otherwise stipulated, these time periods begin either on the date on which the breach of contract occurred, or the date the negligent act or omission occurred. This is known as the date of accrual. The limitation period does not run from the date of the contract itself. It is common to refer to actions which fall outside of these statutory time limits as being 'time barred'.


In 1986, the Latent Damage Act introduced an extension to the ordinary six-year statutory limitation period. This extension is available for negligence claims for latent defects – a defect in a property, caused by a fault in design, materials or workmanship, that existed at the time construction was completed but was not apparent at the time of completion. It does not apply to personal injury claims.

Where there is a latent defect, the time limit is the later of:

  • six years from the date of accrual of the cause of action being raised; and

  • three years from the earliest date on which the potential claimant knew, or reasonably ought to have known, material facts necessary to bring an action alleging negligence

subject to an overall limit of fifteen years from the accrual of damage.


So, in summary, assuming that this is an orthodox/simple contract dispute the time limit for issuing claims will be will be 6 years from the date that the contract was breached/negligent acts carried out. However if the breach/negligence was not apparent at the time of the breach/negligent acts the time limit may expire up to 3 years after the point at which you knew or ought to have known about the problems.


Issues around limitation periods can become quite complex and it would be a very good idea if you and the other leaseholders got legal advice quite soon. If the original work was over 6 years ago you can expect the contractor to argue your claim is time barred.


LondonlawyerJ :

I hope this answers your question but please feel free to ask follow up questions

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