When is a building practically complete?

The Court of Appeal has given a very useful summary of the courts’ current view on what constitutes “practical completion” (if there is no definition in the contractual documents).

The court has provided a summary of the current position on “practical completion” with 6 points:

  1. “practical completion is easier to recognise than define… there are no hard and fast rules”;
  2. “the existence of latent defects cannot prevent practical completion”;
  3. in respect of patent defects, case law does not differentiate between items of work not completed and items of defective work – both can and are identified in snagging lists which do not themselves prevent practical completion being certified;
  4. the”practical approach” should be adopted namely “a state of affairs in which the works have been completed free from patent defects, other than ones to be ignored as trifling”;
  5. “whether or not an item is trifling is a matter of fact and degree”; and
  6. case law, particularly Ruxley Electronics does not support the proposition that the existence of an irremediable defect means that works cannot be considered practically complete.

The conclusion of the judgment then provides a condensed summary of an approach that it is worth bearing in mind and will no doubt be referred to frequently in future:

“If there is a patent defect which is properly regarded as trifling then it cannot prevent the certification of practical completion, whether the defect is capable of economic remedy or not. If on the other hand the defect is properly considered to be more than trifling, then it will prevent practical completion, again regardless of whether or not it is capable of remedy.”

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