REALWorld Law



How are payments to contractors, design consultants and subcontractors normally structured?



Several payment methods exist in order to compensate the above-described parties. Some of the methods of payment are described below.

Contractors and sub-contractors

For contractors and subcontractors, the most common payment methods are lump sum, cost plus a fee, and cost plus a fee with a guaranteed maximum price.

Lump sum

The contract sets out a pre-agreed sum that the contractor/consultant/sub-contractor will be paid to carry out either a stage or the whole of the works that are required under the contract (subject to various provisions, including variations for which the contractor may receive additional monies).

Cost plus a fee

Under a cost plus fee arrangement, the owner pays the contractor for the entire cost of the work, including, without limitation, the cost of engaging workers (including employee benefits), equipment, materials, supplies, supervision etc The owner also pays the contractor a fee representing the contractor’s profit and other items, such as office overhead. The fee can be a percentage of the cost of the work or a lump sum. If the fee is a percentage, then the fee generally will increase or decrease as changes are made to the scope of the work through change orders or construction change directives (see Variations). If the fee is a lump sum, then any additional fee will have to be provided for in the change order or the construction change directive.

Guaranteed Maximum Price

A guaranteed maximum price is the cost plus a fee compensation structure (immediately above) but with a not-to-exceed price guaranteed by the contractor. If the cost of the project exceeds the guaranteed price, then contractor must complete the project and bear responsibility for such excess costs. If the cost of the project is less than the guaranteed maximum price, then the difference between the guaranteed price and the actual cost becomes savings and may be shared in an agreed-upon proportion between the owner and contractor.

Variations exist on the above as well. For example, under the cost plus a fee, the contractor might agree on a not-to-exceed price for the general conditions costs. Under any of the above methods, the contractor might agree not to charge a fee for changed work unless the changed work exceeds a certain dollar amount. In such a case, the contractor might agree that it is not entitled to a fee until the dollar amount of change orders exceeds a specific collar amount (called a ‘fee holiday’ or ‘dead band’).

A schedule of values also may be used to determine that payment remains on course during course of the construction loan. In such a case, a schedule of values listing the trades and other activities on the Project is made, together with the amount then due such parties.

Design consultants

For design consultants, payments are generally made periodically in accordance with a method agreed upon by the parties in the governing agreement. For design work, the phases of work might be assigned a certain value of the entire contract price (eg $X for the schematic design phase, $Y for the design development phase, $Z the construction document phase, $A for the bidding and negotiation phase, $B for construction administration phase, and possibly $C for sustainable design). Within a phase, the parties might agree that the design professional will receive a pro rata share of such value corresponding to the amount for that phase.

Lien Legislation

Each jurisdiction in Canada has legislation that grants those who supply construction services and make improvements to the land a charge against the owner of the land. This type of charge is referred to as a ‘builders’ lien’, ‘mechanics’ lien’ or ‘construction lien’ depending on the jurisdiction. Although the legislation differs in each jurisdiction, the main purpose of the legislation is to provide payment protection for sub-contractors and material suppliers. Owners are required to holdback a certain portion of all payments made under the contract with the contractor. In the event of a claim by a subcontractor for payment, such payment amount can be paid out of the holdback in priority to other claimants. Subcontractors can also register a claim of a builders’ lien against title to the property on which the project was constructed. Certain jurisdictions provide for liens against chattels in addition to liens against the property.

Prompt Payment and Adjudication

Several jurisdictions across Canada, including the federal government, have recently introduced amendments to their construction and lien legislation implementing prompt payment and adjudication, which is modelled after jurisdictions that have had similar legislation in place for many years.  Currently, the only jurisdiction in which this legislation has fully taken effect is the Province of Ontario; other provinces will soon follow.  Although the requirements will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the prompt payment regime imposes statutory payment deadlines that cascade down the construction pyramid and are structured around the delivery by a contractor to an owner of a “proper invoice”.  Adjudication, also governed by statute, is an interim, binding dispute resolution process that facilitates enforcement of any breach of the prompt payment requirements and also allows for a broader range of disputes to be resolved early.  In jurisdictions where these concepts are implemented, it is not permissible to contract out of them.  Prompt payment and adjudication are likely to have a significant impact upon the construction industry in the years to come.