Practical Completion and Defect Liability Period Under Nigerian Law

Though the date of practical completion is of great importance to a building project, it does not have a unanimous definition. Generally, the date of practical completion is not merely the date in which the Client takes over possession of the building. In fact, practical completion may be achieved without the Client taking over physical possession of the building.

Technically and legally, practical completion is the date when the responsibility of insurance, security and maintenance of the building passes from the Contractor to the Client; the Client pays the contract retention sum to the Contractor and the defect liability period begins to run.

A Construction Agreement may provide for practical completion of a building or it may be inferred from the conduct of the parties or deemed upon the happening of an event. The defect liability period is a period for the Contractor to rectify the latent defects it discovers in the building or brought to his attention by the architect or Client’s agent on the building project.

Practically, the date of practical completion of the building is the date in which the works are reasonably ready for its intended use even though there may be outstanding snags or defects. In essence, practical completion is achieved where construction is completed and there are no patent defects in the construction of the building.

It is easier to ascertain the date of practical completion where the Construction Agreement clearly spells out same. Most Construction Agreements usually provide for the architect or the Client’s agent on the project to issue a Certificate confirming practical completion of the works under the Agreement. But what happens where there is no Agreement defining the date or medium to signal practical completion or the architect or Client’s agent on the project refuses to issue a Certificate of practical completion of the construction works in the building even though same has been achieved?

In such an instance, practical completion would be deemed from the intention of the parties which can be inferred from their conducts. For instance, if the Contractor informs the architect or Client’s agent on the project that he has completed the construction works and the architect or Client’s agents submits a list of latent defects on the project to the Contractor, practical completion is deemed to have taken place and the defect liability period shall begin from that date.

Upon completion of the rectification works submitted to the Contractor by the architect or Client’s agent, the defects liability period shall come to an end and the Contractor will ordinarily not be liable to carry out further maintenance works on the building.

However, where there are patent defects on the project, it is the responsibility of the Contractor to rectify the patent defects on the building before practical completion will be deemed and the defect liability period begins. For instance if Mr Tanko Ahmed employ Main Construction Limited to construct a 4 storey building and upon completion of construction, the parties discover that the walls are cracked or the ceilings are licking, Main Construction Limited would have to effectively rectify the cracked walls and licking ceilings before practical completion will be deemed and the defect liability period would begin.

Again where there is no Agreement on the duration of the defect liability period, it may be deemed from the conducts of the parties. For instance, if upon practical completion, the Client informs the Contractor that he will take over possession of the project after the rainy season. The rainy season constitutes the defect liability period. The end of the rainy season signifies the expiration of the defect liability period and the Contractor will no longer be liable to carry out maintenance works on the building.

This is because the Contractor cannot maintain the building project indefinitely. Even the law does not expect that. In such a circumstance, after the rainy season, the Contractor should advise the Client to immediately take possession of the building because practical completion of the building has been achieved and the defect liability period has ended. The Contractor is legally entitled to withdraw from the building and send the keys of the building to the architect or Client’s agent.

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