In case of conflict, get the contract out

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Imagine you’ve just bought a flat. You’re serious about it, as it’s your new home we’re talking about. In your contract with the developer you’re buying the flat from, there’s the option of a contractual penalty of €5,000 to be filed with a notary in the case the flat isn’t completed on time.

Your contract specifies that you have to notify the other party about such a demand within two months.
Now imagine the developer is late with their works, and you realise you won’t be able to move in at the planned time. Would you now give away your option to demand the €5,000?

Of course not.

Yet that’s what plenty of people tend to do.

Precisely because contracts are notoriously complex, you might have overlooked the fact that not only do you need to demand the penalty within two months—but you have to do so involving a notary.

This means you may have mentioned that you want the developer to pay the penalty in your emails, but you haven’t seen a notary public about it.

The two months are over, and you can forget about the €5,000.

Had you asked a lawyer what to do, they would have immediately spotted that condition in your contract, and you would have been able to claim the penalty. But, no such luck.

Here’s another favourite. You’re renovating, and contract with your builder specifies that you have to direct all complaints to the site manager’s email address. It so happens that you are mainly communicating with the owner of the company, who—let’s assume only for purely accidental reasons—fails to remind you.

And why should you worry? The owner stops by, time and again, and personally supervises the work. You’re in good hands, you feel.

But suddenly, there are problems. The work doesn’t get done. You’ve checked, and you know that you’ve complained within all the specific periods set out in the contract, but the owner of the construction company you hired points out to you that no complaint was made to the project manager’s email address within the set time.
Imagine what an unpleasant surprise that would be.

In both cases you stand little to no chance to get things settled to your advantage. There is a real danger here that you might not be able to do anything about the matter at all. After all, the contract, in either case, speaks for itself.

Mind you: these are two typical examples. This sort of thing happens every day. In our day and age, with communication usually done electronically, it is very easy to forget that a contract usually sets out a very specific period and contact person for complaints.

In case of conflict, the first thing you need to do is get out the contract and check. If you are not sure about what you read there, ask your lawyer. The more complex and difficult contracts get, the more you win by talking to an expert in time before things start to go wrong.

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