Recently, I put on a presentation on construction contracts–considerations when using an industry form contract as the template for your construction contract.  There are good industry form contracts that contemplate many different project delivery methods and objectives.  These industry form contracts are promulgated by widely respectable organizations including the AIA, ConsensusDocs, EJCDC, and DBIA.  Based on your needs, these associations also promulgate industry form exhibits to use with your contract (e.g, payment application, schedule of values, payment bond, performance bond, dispute review board, electronic communications protocol, BIM, certificate of substantial completion, change order, construction change directive, green building, RFI, and many more!).    


Below is a chart I put together of a comparison of some of the common risk allocation provisions in the standard general conditions between an owner and contractor in the AIA, ConsensusDocs, and EJCDC as a frame of reference.  All of these standard form agreements serve as valuable templates, but they still require modifications based on the objectives of the parties and the preferred project delivery method.


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Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.


UnknownDuring the negotiation of construction contracts there is often consideration as to the priority of the Contract Documents.  In other words, in the event of a conflict with the Contract Documents, what is the priority that you want to govern the conflict?  To address this, parties may include an order of precedence clause that clarifies how conflicts with the Contract Documents are to be interpreted by prioritizing the Contract Documents.


The AIA Document A201 (General Conditions) deems the Contract Documents as complementary (see § 1.2.1 -“The Contract Documents are complementary, and what is required by one shall be as binding as if required by all….”) without including an order of priority to determine which Contract Document truly governs a conflict.  The AIA does not really favor establishing an order of precedence;  but, if supplementary conditions are added to modify the A201 General Conditions, the AIA does suggest model language:


§ In the event of conflicts or discrepancies among the Contract Documents, interpretations will be based on the following priorities:

1. Modifications.

2. The Agreement.

3. Addenda, with those of later date having precedence over those of earlier date.

4. The Supplementary Conditions.

5. The General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.

6. Division 1 of the Specifications.

7. Drawings and Divisions 2–49 of the Specifications.

8. Other documents specifically enumerated in the Agreement as part of the Contract Documents.



The EJCDC C-700 (General Conditions) contains virtually identical language as the AIA A201 deeming the Contract Documents as complementary: (see § 3.01.A- “The Contract Documents are complementary; what is required by one is as binding if required by all.”)


The ConsensusDocs 200 (Agreement and General Conditions) takes a much more proactive approach regarding conflicts by containing the following clauses:


14.2.2 In case of conflicts between the drawings and specifications, the specifications shall govern….


 14.2.5 ORDER OF PRECEDENCE In case of any inconsistency, conflict, or ambiguity among the Contract Documents, the documents shall govern in the following order: (a) Change Orders and written amendments to this Agreement; (b) this Agreement; (c) subject to subsection 14.2.2 the drawings (large scale governing over small scale), specifications and addenda issued prior to the execution of this Agreement or signed by both Parties; (d) information furnished by the Owner pursuant to subsection 3.13.4 or designated as a Contract Document in section 14.1; (e) other documents listed in this Agreement. Among categories of documents having the same order of precedence, the term or provision that includes the latest date shall control. Information identified in one Contract Document and not identified in another shall not be considered a conflict or inconsistency.



Even Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.236-21 incorporated into government prime construction contracts contains language that, “In the case of difference between drawings and specifications, the specifications shall govern.”


There are certainly pluses and minuses to creating an order of precedence provision.  A minus is that implementing a provision takes away from the complementary nature of the Contract Documents.  Thus, whatever hierarchy you determine and include is a hierarchy you need to understand because you will be living by it. There is also the concern that the provision is incorporated to perhaps serve as a substitute for properly executed, coordinated, and detailed plans and specifications or is incorporated to reduce the contractor’s risk to check the Contract Documents to address any inconsistencies on the front end.   On the other hand, as a plus, these clauses provide necessary guidance in the event there is a claim due to a conflict with the Contract Documents. Most of the time, I tend to favor an order of precedence provision to prioritize direct conflicts in the Contract Documents.  Depending on whether you are the owner, the contractor, or even a subcontractor, forethought should be given to the order of precedence of the Contract Documents since there is a good chance this order will be relied on once construction commences.



imagesTo illustrate the application of an order of precedence provision, in Hensel Phelps Const. Co. v. U.S., 886 F.2d 1296 (Fed.Cir. 1989), a prime contractor sought an equitable adjustment of its contract. The contractor relied on an order of precedence provision that required the specifications to govern over any conflict between the drawings and specifications (see routinely incorporated F.A.R. 52.236-21).  In this case, the specifications called for a minimum of 18” of fill under concrete floor slabs; however, the drawings called for 36” inches of fill.  The contractor priced the job with the 18” of fill.  During construction, the contracting officer directed the contractor to install 36” of fill which triggered the equitable adjustment.   The government, however, argued that the contractor knew of this discrepancy all along.  The Federal Circuit Court nevertheless held that the contractor should be entitled to an equitable adjustment since the specifications had priority over this direct conflict:


Reliance was properly placed on the order of precedence clause to resolve a discrepancy between the specifications and the drawings and this resolution was reflected in the bid. When the government insisted on 36 inches of fill, rather than the 18 inches called for in the specifications, the contractor was required to perform more work than the contract required and more than its bid price contemplated. Consequently, on the record here neither Hensel Phelps [prime contractor] nor Watts [subcontractor] can be said to have profited or otherwise benefited by reliance on the order of precedence clause.” 

Hensel Phelps, 886 F.2d at 1299.


Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.




AIA_G704_Certificate_of_Substantial_CompletionThe term “substantial completion” is in most construction contracts. And, it should be. This date marks the date the owner expects to be able to use its project for its intended purpose and, if it cannot, the contractor will (likely) be assessed liquidated damages for the delay to the substantial completion date. The owner’s contractual ability to assess liquidated damages serves to motivate the contractor to substantially complete the project by the agreed date and to reimburse the owner for delay-related damages that cannot be ascertained with a reasonable degree of certainty at the time of the contract.



A.   How is Substantial Completion Defined



Under the general conditions of the AIA (American Institute of Architects A201 Document 2007), substantial completion is the stage in the progress of the Work when the Work or designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents so that the Owner can occupy or utilize the Work for its intended use.” (AIA Document A201 s. 9.8.1)   Under the AIA, the architect is required to conduct inspections to determine the date of substantial completion and certifies this date.



The general conditions of the EJCDC (Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee C-700 Document 2007) defines substantial completion similarly as:



The time and date at which the Work has progressed to the point where, in the opinion of Engineer, the Work is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the Contract Documents, so that the Work can be occupied and/or utilized for the purposes for which it is intended….Substantial Completion cannot occur before the Project is issued a Certificate of Occupancy (or Completion, if applicable) by the governing building department that allows Owner to utilize the entire Project for the purposes for which it is intended.” (EJCDC Document C-700 s. 1.01.46)
Whether it is an AIA, EJCDC, or other industry form document, substantial completion is routinely defined as that point in time when the owner can utilize its project for the purposes for which it is intended.



A leading case in Florida discussing substantial completion is J.M. Beeson Co. v. Sartori, 553 So.2d 180 (Fla. 4th DCA 1989). This case involved an owner assessing liquidated damages against its contractor. The contractor was hired to construct a shopping center that required substantial completion within 300 days of commencement. The contract provided that substantial completion occurred when “construction is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents, so the owner can occupy or utilize the work or designation portion thereof for the use for which it is intended.” J.M Beeson, 553 So.2d at 181. Although two anchor tenants in the shopping center received Certificates of Occupancy within the 300 days, another tenant did not. The owner took the position that substantial completion had not been achieved, irrespective of the Certificates of Occupancy, because items such as landscaping were not completed. The Fourth District dismissed the owner’s position finding:



“[W]hen the owner can put tenants in possession for fixturing and can begin to collect rents, the owner begins to utilize the work for its intended purpose. When the owner was able to occupy and fixture the constructed space, the construction was substantially completed.”  J.M. Beeson, 553 at 182-83 (internal citations omitted).



The Fourth District indicated that the substantial completion date occurred no later than the date the shopping center was able to obtain certificates of occupancy for the tenants.  Notably, if the contractor in J.M. Beeson was simply required to build shell retail space where the tenants were responsible for their own tenant improvements, the substantial completion would likely occur when an applicable certificate of completion was issued for the shell space pursuant to the shell permit that would entitle the tenants to begin their individual improvements. See, e.g., Hausman v. Bayrock Investment Co., 530 So.2d 938 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (finding that test for substantial completion for property tax purposes is the date property is put to use for which it is intended; in this case, since contactor was building shell retail space, substantial completion occurred when shells were completed).



If an owner is in a position to use its project for its intended purpose (whether for personal use, public use, whatever the project entails), this really should mark the substantial completion date. This is more of an objective date determined by the governing building department through the issuance of a certificate relating to the permit.



B.  Contract Drafting / Understanding Tips



I prefer the substantial completion definition in the general conditions of the EJCDC (above) because it references that this point in time should not be earlier than the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy (or applicable Certificate of Completion). Even though most contracts give certain discretion to the design professional to determine and certify the date, the fact remains that the Certificate of Occupancy is realistically the date that determines when an Owner can use its project for its intended purpose since it permits occupancy. I often like to tie the substantial completion date in the contract to the Certificate of Occupancy date or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy date (since the TCO date may be the date that allows occupancy under certain conditions) since this more accurately reflects the date the Owner can use its project for its purpose (or, if it is a project for shell space, the Certificate of Completion date that authorizes the tenant to construct finishes / improvements).  Also, this removes some of the discretion from the design professional and shifts their focus to generating the punchlist and working towards final completion.



From an owner’s perspective, if it agrees to a mutual waiver of consequential damages in the contract, it must absolutely include a liquidated damages provision tied to the substantial completion date. If it does not want to include a liquidated damages provision, then the owner needs to ensure there is not a mutual waiver of consequential damages provision and, if there is a delay to the substantial completion date, be in a position to prove its actual delay-related damages.



From a contractor’s perspective, it wants to agree to a substantial completion date where arguably there is float built into its schedule to ensure it has enough time to substantially complete the project. Also, it will want to ensure through flow-down provisions in its subcontracts that it has the ability to flow down assessed liquidated damages to responsible subcontractors that impact its critical path.



From a subcontractors’ perspective, it needs to understand the contractor’s schedule and how the work is sequenced and ideally have input particularly relating to durations for its activities based on the sequencing of the work. Otherwise, the subcontractor could be putting itself in a position where it will be notified of delays since it is unable to meet its required durations.


Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.