With the summer months behind us, the fall season in the construction industry will include the next steps in passing Bill 142, also known as the Act to Amend the Construction Lien Act. If implemented, Bill 142 will represent the most significant legislative reform seen in the Ontario construction industry since 1983, when the existing Construction Lien Act came into force. The first reading of Bill 142 was carried on May 31, 2017 and it is widely anticipated that the second reading will occur early in the fall. Although consultation on the language of the draft continues, it is almost a certainty that Bill 142 will pass well before the provincial election in the spring of 2018.
While the themes giving rise to this legislation have been under discussion for many years, the industry should be prepared for dramatic change with respect to both contract administration and dispute resolution. The hot button terms representing this reform are without a doubt “prompt payment” and “adjudication”. Together with a slew of changes intended to modernize construction liens, and a new requirement for bonding on most public projects, these key concepts are going to impact virtually every player in the construction industry and every type of project – from the largest P3 infrastructure project to the renovation of your kitchen. Indeed, one of the commonly cited challenges with Ontario’s construction legislation has always been that projects sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to size and contract price are nonetheless governed by the same law.
There are many ways that the objectives of this construction law reform can be captured. The following three are salient:
Bill 142 has been modelled, in part, after other jurisdictions. However, the purpose of this article is to focus more on a forward-looking summary of what Bill 142 will mean for the industry, and less on the process that led to it. The scope of the overall changes can be seen even in the title of the legislation. Rather than the Construction Lien Act, Ontario will soon have the Construction Act.
A lengthy debate within the construction industry over the need for prompt payment was the primary driver behind the provincial government commissioning a full review of the Construction Lien Act. It is therefore not a surprise that prompt payment features prominently in Bill 142. One of the principal criticisms of past efforts at prompt payment (many readers will recall Bill 69) was that with payment terms imposed by legislation, parties would not have the freedom to customize their contracts for the unique nature of each project. For example, while some contracts contemplate monthly billing and payment, it is quite common on larger projects for payments to be tied to the achievement of specific milestones.
The prompt payment structure contemplated by Bill 142 seeks to achieve that balance. The deadline for making a payment will be triggered by the submission of a “proper invoice”. The Bill sets out the minimum information that a proper invoice must include and then allows for “any other requirements that the contract specifies” and any other information that may be prescribed by regulation. In addition to basic information such as the contractor’s contact information and where to send payment, a proper invoice must include the authority (usually the contract) on which the work was supplied, a full description of the work, the amount owing and the payment terms.
Importantly, Bill 142 provides that proper invoices shall be submitted monthly unless the contract provides otherwise. Accordingly, it will be more critical than ever for parties to figure out the timing and basis for invoices (including milestone payments) at the time they draft their contract. The decision will otherwise be made for them by the legislation.
It is also essential to understand that the statute will prohibit any contract clause that makes the giving of a proper invoice contingent upon payment certification or the prior approval of the invoice by an owner. In other words, if the statutory and contractual requirements for the contents of a proper invoice are met, the deadline for paying it will start to run. This concept may be disappointing to some in the industry who would have preferred to see payment deadlines tied to certification. However, the counterargument to that reaction will be the freedom to negotiate the invoice delivery process at the front end of the job.
The key concept in the prompt payment section of Bill 142 is the imposition of statutory payment deadlines. The deadline for payment by an owner to a contractor will be 28 days from the delivery of the proper invoice, unless the owner delivers a prescribed form of notice of non-payment within 14 days of the proper invoice being received. Notably, such a notice must particularize the amount and basis for non-payment and can be tested, at the discretion of the contractor, in the binding adjudication process that is described below.
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