Surety Bond Now a Valid Performance Guarantee for NC Developers (guest post)

subdivision

Welcome summer days!  Today we have a guest post by Todd Bryant, president and founder of Bryant Surety Bonds. He is a surety bonds expert with years of experience in helping contractors get bonded and start their business.  While design professionals generally don’t have to deal with performance bonds directly, they are often at the front lines of advising owners as to various Requests for Proposals submitted by hopeful contractors.  In that spirit, be sure to read how the new law changes security requirements.

 Take it away, Todd!

Last year wrapped up with some good news for North Carolina subdivision developers: House Bill 721 confirmed that construction bonds are, in fact, a viable form of performance guarantee. Previous legislation was ambiguous on this point, but the new bill– which took effect last October– sought to clear up the confusion.  Although the new rules have been in effect for eight months, there’s been scant coverage of the changes, and what they mean for developers.

City Ordinances for Subdivisions

HB 721 is a revision to a section of North Carolina General Statutes, which authorizes cities to regulate land development with their own subdivision control ordinances. Ordinances are meant to ensure that land is developed in an organized fashion, to avoid overcrowding and congestion.

Cities have the discretion to set their own requirements for developers. Usually, cities ask developers to include certain features in new subdivisions, to fit in the city’s infrastructure. These might include recreational space for residents of the development, or building easements for existing roads and utilities. Some cities will allow developers to furnish funds for these public improvements, instead of building them themselves. Often, ordinances ask for detailed, up-to-date plans throughout project construction, so any changes can be approved by the city in advance.

To prove that they will follow local ordinances, subdivision developers must usually furnish the city with some kind of performance guarantee. According to the new bill, a surety bond officially meets the criteria for this guarantee.

The Facts on Surety Bonds

If you’re a design professional or developer in North Carolina, you’re probably familiar with these bonds already. Construction bonds, also known as contract bonds, are usually required of contractors who take on public construction projects. More and more, large private projects are requiring these bonds as well. There are a few different types of contract bonds, including bid bonds, payment bonds, and performance bonds, but they all serve a similar function. Contract bonds work like a line of credit for the developer, to ensure the project is completed on time, and according to the stipulations of the contract.

North Carolina HB 721 relates primarily to performance bonds, which are the type of contract bonds that cities will most often require from subdivision developers. With this new law, construction bonds are officially recognized as a valid form of performance guarantee that North Carolina subdivision developers can submit to demonstrate that they will follow all city ordinances.

HB 721 also includes some guidelines about how big this surety bond must be. Although cities will have the authority to set the bond amount on a case-by-case basis, it can’t exceed 125% of the estimated project cost.

Of course, surety bonds aren’t the only kind of performance guarantee that’s acceptable. Developers will still have the option to submit a letter of credit instead, or some equivalent security. However, the amount of credit that’s needed to satisfy this requirement is usually out of reach of some smaller developers.

Posting a bond requires much less capital than submitting a letter of credit, since the bond cost is only a small percentage of the total bond amount. The clarifications in HB 721 could be a boon for North Carolina developers who want to grow their business, as it could enable them to take on bigger projects. City officials in North Carolina are pleased with the new law, as well, as they believe this will make compliance and accountability easier, for government officials and subdivision developers.

If you’re a developer with questions about local ordinances, make sure to check with zoning officials in your subdivision’s city or county.

Thanks Todd for your article!  Readers, if you have questions or comments about how HB 721 affects your projects, feel free to share in the comments.

 Image source: https://flic.kr/p/9KpZH

Not so Universal Design Fails (guest post)

ADA ramp problems

Today we have a guest post from Carla Williams, who works in customer service for the Williams Brothers Corporation of America.   Carla humorously brings light to a serious problem– the intent behind ADA and Universal Design is very often not met with poorly-thought out applications in the real world.  Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment for Carla below. 

Universal design is the idea that architecture should be inherently accessible to everyone. The growing number of architects adopting universal design is great news for people with accessibility needs. Instead of having separate entrances and walkways to make a building accessible, universal design allows people of all abilities to move together.

Unfortunately, many buildings are stuck back in 1990 right after the Americans with Disabilities Act was made law. These buildings may be technically “accessible,” but they aren’t spaces people with accessibility needs can maneuver very easily.  Until all building designers come to understand and implement the beauty and functionality of universal design, the world is left with less than ideal accessibility. “Less than ideal” is a bit of an understatement. Many times full-on “accessibility fails” take place.

We’ve taken the liberty of rounding up some of the most hilarious accessibility fails on the internet. These places are not only clueless about universal design, but they completely miss the whole accessibility thing by a long shot. Enjoy!

1.     A very useful ramp completely blocked by a giant flower pot. A very useful ramp indeed.

ADA ramp fail

Here we see a lack of understanding on the part of whoever dragged that flower pot out onto the ramp. Someone in a wheelchair might be able to use the ramp otherwise, but with the huge barrel of flowers sitting in the middle of it? Good luck trying to navigate around that thing into the building.

(Image source)

 

 

 

2.  The only requirement to use the ramp is the ability to climb stairs.

Ramp fail 3

Here is an example of something you may have thought impossible: a non-accessible accessible entrance. There is actually a ramp there, which is the accessible entrance into the building. The only problem is the ramp begins with a set of stairs. Stairs, according to the ADA and anyone with common sense, are non-accessible. So the ramp itself is non-accessible, making it a non-accessible accessible entrance.

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3.     Sure, you can reach 8 feet away for toilet paper, right?

Toilet roll fail

This accessible stall is nice and wide for easy maneuvering. There is a great big spot to park your chair or walker, if that’s what you use. It’s just that the great big parking space is between you and the toilet paper once you are… situated. Let’s hope the owner of this building realizes the problem and bothers to install a TP dispenser anywhere within arm’s reach of the toilet like a considerate human being.

(Image source)

 

 

4.     Is this a wheelchair ramp or a roller coaster?Ramp roller coaster

That’s a very steep staircase and definitely not accessible, so it makes sense someone would see the need for an alternative entrance into the building. Maybe whoever installed it thought painting this “ramp” blue and slapping on an accessibility sign would make it useful to someone who needed an alternative to the stairs. The only problem is no one could even safely walk down this super slide, let alone take on the slope in a wheelchair.

(Image source)

 

 

 

 

5.     “Please ask at counter.” You know, the counter you can’t get to.

Ramp available ask at counter

Not all buildings were able or even required to meet ADA standards before 1990, and so the owners of these buildings try to accommodate their guests with accessibility needs in other ways. Yet in this case, despite good intentions, someone just wasn’t thinking it through. Great, you offer a ramp. A ramp which is only available at the counter… which is beyond the stairs. The stairs that someone with accessibility needs can’t ascend without a ramp.

(Image source)

 

 

Friends Don’t Let Friends Have Accessibility Fails

Cobbling together an accessibility solution is never as good as making a building permanently and sensibly accessible to all people. Even better, planning out a building with universal design in mind allows for better integration of accessibility needs while maintaining the design concept of a given space. Mandatory universal design would at least make ramps with stairs and stairwell superslides far less common.

Thanks Carla for your light-hearted, education post.  Thoughts/comments?  Have your own photo of an ADA or Universal Design fail?  Share below.

Of backwoods towns, train-wrecks, and feuding neighbors (i.e., an Email warning) (law note)

Train WreckWhat is it about train-wrecks that we all slow down to rubber-neck the blood, guts, and gore?  Whatever the reason, we all love to watch a good fight– especially those on-line, where people treat one another less than human.

A recent neighborhood list serve that I am a part of just had a particularly vicious debate between two people who, had they met over a cup of coffee instead of on-line, would at least have been civil to each other.  Instead, they sent verbal barbs back and forth to one another over (of all things) a door-to-door solicitor.  With the whole neighborhood watching.  What does this have to do with your professional career as an engineer or architect?  Glad you asked.  First, just a taste of the exchange:

Aggrieved Neighbor #1: 

I’m sorry for your view of the world and clear lack of broad social intelligence.  You add to the problem and underline the unnecessary drama applied to most modern dialect.  Please go get a few more degrees to convince yourself of your own intelligence.

Aggrieved Neighbor #2:

Nice ad hominem.  I never suggested that you or anyone else on this thread was lacking intelligence or motivated by ill will. Based on your last response, I still wouldn’t say that you’re lacking intelligence, but you are kind of a @#$%. Have a lovely day.

 

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Now, back to how this relates to your work.  These neighbors KNEW that others would see their remarks- hence the nature of a list-serve.  Now, how often do you send an email internally, not intending anyone other than your colleagues to see it?  Often, right?  Do you ever say anything inappropriate in the emails?  Off-color joke?  Tongue-in-cheek comment about the client?

Let’s say you’ve just had it with a particularly offensive client, and send your colleague this email:

Guess who changed his mind again?  That’s right, Mr. Wishy-Washy himself.  Need to revise the latest plans for the lobby area to include an extra work station.  Thanks!

Nothing too bad about that, right?  Would you like to have to explain why you are calling the client names in a deposition?  Cause every one of those emails is discoverable.

Here’s another one (modified from a real life example), sent to a former classmate in Faraway State:

Hey, Joe!  I hear that Mr. X is moving from Faraway to Random Town, North Carolina to run the Operations Facility There.  What happened to get Mr. X sent to a backwater town like Random Town, NC– hand caught in the cookie jar?  Drop me a line when you get a chance.

 

This email (modified ONLY slightly to prevent embarrassment by the persons involved) was actually part of discovery in a case I handled.  Now, imagine explaining to a local jury why you called them a “backwater town”.  The thing is, my client did not mean anything at all by the email– he was just ribbing his former classmate.  You know, the type of thing you do over a glass of beer.  Except here, it was documented.  For the other side.  For the court.  For the jury.

Keep these examples in mind when you are writing anything.  It’s the old New York Times rule— if it isn’t something you’d be happy to have your Grandma read about you in the NY Times, then don’t put it in writing.

Your future self will thank you.

Your turn.  Ever write or get an email that made you wince?  Think twice before sending those missives.  Jokes do not translate well in a construction lawsuit!

 

Betterment on the Construction Project (law note)

betterToday’s post is thanks to a discussion with an engineer following a talk I gave for the ASCE of North Carolina.  He asked about owners trying to recover for obvious mistakes, for which they’d have to pay anyhow.

That brought me to the topic of betterment.  What is betterment, and why is it important in the construction world?

Betterment is a legal concept that says, even if your plan is missing something, if the owner would have had to pay for that missing item anyhow, they cannot get money from you.

A real life example:  A designer’s set of plans showed sanitary sewer extending out 8 feet from the building footprint.  It did not show the sewer connecting to the city sewer line.  The owner later complained because it had to pay the contractor for a change order for the connection.  However, since the owner would have had to pay for the connection regardless, the owner could not recover from the designer for the missing sewer connection.  [Had the owner paid a premium due to the fact that the missing connection was discovered during construction, that premium over and above normal costs could have been recoverable.]

Betterment, then, is a defense to a claim of defective plans, because even if the plans are defective, the defect did not cost the owner any additional money.

It can be a tricky concept to explain–even some plaintiff’s lawyers that I’ve dealt with fail to understand the concept.  However, it is an important part of many defenses.

Questions?  Comments?  Ever experienced a “betterment” situation yourself?  Share in the comments section, below.

 

What the Triangle’s Construction Boom Means for Dealing with Hispanic Crews (tip)

Today, we have a guest post from Elsa Jimenez,  founder of English to Spanish Raleigh.  Elsa is a native Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Hispanic country. She is an accomplished lawyer and translator who has been living and working in the U.S. for many years and is also a member of the American Translators Association.

Construction in the Triangle is booming. Whether new construction or remodeling, the Triangle Business Journal reports that Wake County construction permits for August were some of the market’s largest gains of the past year – roughly a 20% increase year-over-year.

The trend of new homes and multi-family home construction continues to increase in the Triangle’s towns and cities, with Cary leading the way with the most permits issued. Towns like Raleigh, Apex, Morrisville, and Wake Forest also have many new development projects planned. This makes our area a prime target for companies like Choate, C.F. Evans, Wood Partners, and other builders and contractors, as they make their way into these areas to complete these projects.

With construction being one of the top industries with Hispanic or Latino workers, this trend means much more than a booming housing and development market in the Triangle. It presents a need for English to Spanish translation of business documents, employee handbooks, and safety manuals.

Here’s an example of how one contractor met the OSHA requirements and bridged the communication language gap with more than just their business documents:

 

job site sign in Spanish

One of the nation’s largest general contractor construction firms here in Raleigh, NC, Brasfield & Gorrie includes Spanish translated signage in front of their Crabtree Valley Mall site.

With the growth in construction projects in North Carolina, it’s equally important to put this into context in terms of the state’s Hispanic population. North Carolina has seen growth in the Hispanic population, above the national average.

Image Credit: https://ui.uncc.edu/story/hispanic-latino-population-north-carolina-cities-census

Image Credit: https://ui.uncc.edu/story/hispanic-latino-population-north-carolina-cities-census

According to the Pew Research Center, of the Hispanics and Latinos in North Carolina, only 19% speak only English at home (138,000). 81% speak another language at home (581,000). The Spanish language is a pillar in the Hispanic community, and speaking Spanish is not going anywhere soon, making it yet another “must” for companies, builders, and contractors to translate their documents from English to Spanish.

So, as we see the housing and development market continue to grow, we are likely to see more Spanish translated materials.

Make sure your business documents – from HR forms, safety manuals, and employee handbooks – are professionally translated from English to Spanish to accommodate the growing population of Hispanics in NC, comply with OSHA regulations, and meet the growing need of streamlined communication.

The best English to Spanish translation firm will be one composed of native Spanish-speakers, who know the contextual cues and nuances of the Spanish language, and can provide the crucial aspect of cultural relevancy – things that online translation tools simply cannot provide.

 

Thanks, Elsa, for your thoughts.  Have you had experience dealing with language barrier issues while out and about on construction sites?  Share in the comments, below.

 

 

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