Think Green Building Risks Are Overstated? Check Out San Juan’s Green Roof Project

San Juan, TX set out to install a beautiful green roof on a city building, but after some engineering work was performed, the roof had to be decreased substantially in size because it would not be able to support the additional weight. The story was reported by a local publication, The Monitor.

It seems the green roof weight issue came as a surprise to the local planners, who already received a grant for the installation. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to readers of our blog. We proposed this exact thing as a potential problem with green roofs in an October 2010 blog post: Examples of Things That Can Go Wrong With Green Building Projects. I’ve mentioned it a number number of times in various presentations I’ve given on Green Building.

The good news is that San Juan discovered this problem before the roof’s installation, reminding us that engineering reports and review of green jobs on the front end can pay dividends in the long run. This weight problem could have easily gone the other way, with the problem discovered during or after the installation.

Construction Law Monitor An Expert on Mike Rowe Works’ Trades Hub

Mike Rowe Trades Hub Promo PhotoMike Rowe, the host of the Emmy-nominated Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs, today launched Trades Hub, publishing resources and content from writers and bloggers in the construction industry for folks from all types of trades.

The Construction Law Monitor (and our sister Construction Lien Blog) has been chosen to take part in the Trades Hub.

Trades Hub is an extension the the mikeroweWorks website, which is “dedicated to championing the cause of hard workers and reinvigorating the skilled trades.” The tag line: Mike Rowe Is No Expert, But He Knows Where To Find Them.

Here is the press release from the mrW website:

Mike Rowe Is No Expert, But He Knows Where to Find Them

After being an apprentice on nearly 300 dirty jobs, Mike Rowe is still no expert, but he sure knows where to find them. In 2008, Mike launched mikeroweWORKS, a website dedicated to championing the cause of hard workers and reinvigorating the skilled trades. Since then, mrW has provided resources, news, and a community forum for folks from all kinds of trades. Now, with the launch of the Trades Hub, the goals of mrW can be expanded even further and across many more website portals.

Think of Trade Hubs as a “first cousin” to mrW. With this new platform, we’ll be able to pull together even more experts from such diverse trade fields as construction, plumbing, landscaping, manufacturing, machinery and HVAC just to name a few.

Here’s what you can look for at the Trades Hub:

More High Quality Content: The mrW Trades Hub will be pulling together all kinds of blogs, articles and news stories relating to the trades, by the trades and for the trades. They will be updated throughout the day.

One Stop Shop: With an easy to navigate site, users will be able to quickly source out those areas of interest that appeal to them on any given day. The links will take them right to where they want to go without sorting through all kinds of search engine pages for the right site.

Finding the Diamond in the Rough: When you consider the millions of new pages and posts uploaded across the internet everyday it’s hard to find the best representations for your interests. Trade Hubs takes internet searching to the next level by identifying those popular blog and websites that might normally go unnoticed if you’re not a regular subscriber.

Building Up the Trades Community: “The skills gap is a real concern that’s getting more worrisome every day. Fewer skilled tradesmen in the workforce will affect us all. Younger folks need to have a better understanding of how they can benefit from learning a trade, and parents need to encourage their kids to consider this worthwhile and important path. mrW strives to reinvigorate the trades. The mrW Trades Hub will help us in that effort.”

mikeroweWORKS would like to thank Tony Karrer with assistance from John Sonnhalter for their efforts in getting the Trades Hub up and running.

Visit the site at http://tradeshub.mikeroweworks.com. Below is a screen shot of the site.

Screenshot of Mike Rowe Works Trades Hub Website

Why An US Department Of Labor Investigation Can Ruin Your Year

Over the past few years, state and federal construction projects have been the bread and butter for the struggling construction industry. These projects are largely prevailing wage projects, and unfortunately, many contractors and subcontractors found themselves trying to understand compliance with these regulations for the first time.

At the same time, federal budget challenges and extra funding from the Obama Administration put more eyes at the US Department of Labor on prevailing wage violations.

The result is that many folks found themselves in the middle of a prevailing wage investigation, and learning about how frustrating and unfair these investigations can be.

This post gives you a glimpse at how these investigations work, and why an investigation – even without underlying wrongdoing – can really ruin the year (or more) for your company.

The Investigation Is Confidential

The first thing you’ll learn about a US Department of Labor Prevailing Wage investigation is that it is confidential. You will probably learn this at your first sit down with the investigator, as he or she explains to you all of the alleged violations. You’ll likely ask to see what the investigator is using to reach his or her conclusions, and that’s when you’ll be hit with the bombshell: you can’t see a thing.

The Department of Labor typically begins an investigation into a company or project after receiving a complaint. Any requests to see this complaint will be denied, as it is confidential to protect the rights of the complainant and to encourage complaints.

Then, the department will request you provide wage documentation and certified payroll, and will begin to interview laborers on the project. If you ask the department to identify who they interviewed or what was discussed, all of this will not be disclosed, as it is confidential.

The Complaint Against You Can Be Completely Meritless And Still Cause Problems

I was recently involved in a prevailing wage investigation where the Department of Labor was requiring a construction company to pay back wages on employees whose names were not even fully known, and who the department had no contact information on whatsoever. These partially named parties even appeared to be relatives of other laborers on the project.

So, for example, there would be an Alex Rodriquez on the project, and then a list of two or three other laborers like B. Rodriquez, C. Rodriquez and D. Rodriquez, all without any address or contact information, and with the department claiming these laborers were entitled to 10k – 20k each in back wages!

In other instances, I’ve seen the department of labor find laborers were working 60-80 hours per week when no one on the job was working those hours, or finding that folks who performed lower classified work (i.e. pure laborers) getting classified as plumbers or electricians.

And while these allegations may be completely meritless they are impossible to fight at the investigation level because the investigations are under seal, and an investigation you can’t see is an investigation you can’t fight.

So What Are Your Options?

This whole thing may seem a bit unfair, and from my perspective, it is unfair. Really unfair. However, courts have sided with these type of “under seal” investigations in the past, ruling that they protect the integrity of the investigation and the interests of complaints.

The reason these investigations have passed constitutional muster in the past is because a company can appeal the department’s findings to a federal court. Upon filing an appeal, the investigation materials become more of an open book.

This sounds fair from a theoretical viewpoint, it has practical challenges in reality.

First, the cost of appealing an investigation is quite high, as you will be hiring an attorney and paying a retainer of at least $10k – $20k.

Second, and more importantly, you’ll have lots of pressure on other folks on the construction project to resolve the issue. If you don’t resolve it, the investigator will go up the contact chain, all the way to the owner, with all parties being required to pay the back wages. This results in your money getting held up, and making it very difficult for you to continue on with work or a legal fight.

So, what do you do?

You can pay the back charges and try to learn from the experience, or you can lawyer up and fight the investigation findings tooth and nail…fight the good fight.

From a prevention standpoint, you’ll want to keep meticulous records and be extra careful to comply with wage determinations on these projects. Hire a construction attorney to advise you on how to comply with these requirements, and follow the regulations to the letter, keeping records you can use to prove your case in the event of an investigation…and, hope for a little bit of luck.

Minor Changes To Mississippi Mechanic Lien Laws Now Effective

Since Mississippi is a very close neighbor of Louisiana, and many of our readers do construction work in both states, we have a history of posting about laws and changes in the laws of that state. Take a look at our Mississippi tag here to read these posts. This post is to alert our readers to a recent change in Mississippi’s mechanic lien laws recently signed into law by Governor Barbour (Senate Bill 2363).

The new law is discussed in more detail on another blog I publish, the Construction Lien Blog:  Mississippi Lien Law Now Allows Suit in County Court and Clarifies Statutory Lien Period.

In a nutshell, the law makes two changes:

  1. Previously, the law provided that suits to enforce liens must be filed in circuit court. The new laws amends to clarify that suit can also be filed in county court, which is a court of limited jurisdiction and can handle disputes under $200,000 (which covers most liens).
  2. It has always been clear that lien enforcement actions in Mississippi must be filed within 1 year of when a debt became due, but because of the complexities of construction debts, this didn’t make things very clear at all. The new law clarifies when the 1 year period begins.

Special thanks to Robert Wise of Sharpe & Wise for calling our attention to this law change. He and his wife, Suzanne Sharpe, worked on pushing it through the legislative process.

Tips For Hiring A Residential Contractor

Alicia Lagarde CraigWe’re happy to hear from Alicia Lagarde as a guest blogger on the Monitor this week. This blog focuses a great deal on construction law from the perspective of the contractor, supplier or subcontractor. It’s a nice change of pace to have Alicia posting on our site to discuss a perspective that is very important and popular, but not frequently discussed here: the perils and challenges of hiring a contractor to perform home repairs or construction.

Alicia Lagarde is a licensed REALTOR® in the State of Louisiana, serving Metropolitan New Orleans, including the Northshore.  As an agent for Keller Williams Realty New Orleans,  Alicia is dedicated to finding the perfect property that best suits your needs and goal. Visit her website at http://www.myNOLAhome.com, and her blog at http://alicialagarderealtor.blogspot.com/.

How to Find a Contractor – Choosing the right contractor will save you time & money.

• Ask friends and trusted associates who have already hired contractors for recommendations

• Check out potential contractors with consumer protection groups, such as the Better Business Bureau of New Orleans: www.neworleans.bbb.org or 504-581-6222. BBB’s video, How to hire a contractor, can be purchased from their online resource library.

• Ask for proof that potential contractors are licensed with the State of Louisiana, and verify with the State Licensing Board at: www.lslbc.louisiana.gov/findcontractor.asp or call (225) 765 2301 to verify licensing.

• Ask potential contractors about their familiarity and experience with energy efficiency, being environmentally responsible, and providing healthy building practices and materials.

Hiring a contractor

Once you have found a licensed contractor who checks out with the BBB or another consumer protection group, ask for:

–A list of references, particularly of projects similar to yours and make sure to call    the references to check them.

–Lists of subcontractors and suppliers and verify that they pay their debts on time.

–Proof of current insurance (should include General Liability, Worker’s Compensation and Builder’s Risk). Make sure to obtain an insurance binder with you listed as the additional insured from the contractor’s insurance company before signing a contract.

–The contract should be modeled after standard American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) construction contract. Contract templates can be purchased at: www.aianeworleans.org

–Before signing the contract, make sure you understand the terms and conditions. If necessary, ask an attorney or a neutral party familiar with the construction process to advise you.

Payment

–Ten percent (10%) of the contract is the most a legitimate contractor will request for a deposit.

–Payment should proceed according to the contract. Pay only for what has been completed.

–Do not pay in cash, write a check and keep written records of all payments.

–Keep written records of paperwork, conversations and activities, including photographs of the completed work.

–Changes to the scope of work should be estimated and approved by the contractor and you in writing before they are begun; make sure to get 2 original copies of the changes in writing and you also want to make sure that both you and the contractor sign-off on these changes.

–Do not make final payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction, all subcontractors and suppliers are paid, and the jobsite is clean and cleared of all debris.