Construction Law Blog
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Companies that do not themselves qualify for federal preferences as small, disadvantaged businesses can help in joint ventures with other qualified companies and enjoy many of the benefits these programs offer.
Federal agencies annually reserve over $12 billion in federal contracting opportunities for award to “8(a)” companies, which are businesses that have successfully applied for determination of being socially and economically disadvantaged under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) Act. In addition, other categories of disadvantaged, small businesses, such as companies owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans, qualify for a growing allotment of set aside contracts and other preferences.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
When issuing citations under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 (“WISHA”), the Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) commonly classifies violations as either “general” or “serious.” The level of severity has an effect on the civil penalty – for example, the civil penalty of “serious” violation can reach $7,000 per violation – as well as the contractor’s safety record. Contractors with poor safety records may pay more for insurance and have a more difficult time procuring work.
On March 25, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published its final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (the “Silica Rule”). Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other materials. Silica exposure is classified as a human lung carcinogen and can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. Approximately two million construction workers nationwide are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplace as a result of drilling, cutting, crushing, or grinding silica-containing material, such as concrete and stone.
Since 2009, the City of Seattle Department of Constructions & Inspections (formerly part of the Department of Planning (the “Department”) has been considering requiring retrofits for buildings with unreinforced masonry (“URM”) bearing walls. URM buildings are the brick buildings built without steel reinforcements and ties and connections required by modern building codes. They were built throughout the city, but many can be seen in neighborhoods such as Pioneer Square, Chinatown/International District, Columbia City, Capitol Hill, and Ballard. URM buildings are the most likely type to be damaged during earthquakes, and retrofits will make these buildings less vulnerable to damage.
More than 100 new industries are now eligible for the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Woman-Owned Small Business (“WOSB”) contract program. The SBA implemented the WOSB program in order to expand the number of industries where woman-owned small buisnesses could compete. The program allows set-asides for Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (“EDWOSBs”) in industries where WOSBs are underrepresented and set-asides for WOSBs where they are substantially underrepresented.
Recently, the largest changes in more than 30 years were made in federal mortgage disclosure requirements. On August 1, 2015, the forms that have become second nature for generations of loan originators, attorneys, and borrowers—including the Good Faith Estimate (GFE), HUD-1, and Truth-in-Lending—are no longer used for new real estate transactions. In their place are two completely new forms and a new set of requirements for how and when they are provided to borrowers.
In a recent case, the Washington State Supreme Court examined the question of whether a city or town’s zoning regulations can take precedence over activities that are permitted under state law. The issue arose from the City of Kent’s efforts to prohibit collective gardens that were authorized by the pre-2015 version of RCW Chapter 69.51A, the Medical Use of Cannabis Act (MUCA).
In federal government contracting, as in most public works contracts, contractors are required to comply with Contracting Officers' decisions. Contract clauses mandate that pending resolution of disputes, the contractor must proceed with the performance of the contract, the dispute notwithstanding.[i] Thus, even if a contractor suspects that the Contracting Officer directing the extra work does not have appropriate funds to pay for the changed work, the contractor has little choice but to perform the extra work. This is a trap for unwary contractors that expend their own funds only to find out that there is no appropriation to pay for the extra work. The Federal Anti-Deficiency Act was passed to prevent this very issue from occurring, but as contractors have learned, this Act has not precluded government employees from directing extra work for which they have no funds.[ii]
In the 2007 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature significantly expanded the definition of what constitutes a “Contractor” in Washington State, such that for the past 8 years a broad reading of the contractor’s registration statute, RCW Ch. 18.27, would require just about any person or entity, other than a residential homeowner, who is involved at any level in improving real property to be registered as a “Contractor,” irrespective if that person or entity hired a licensed contractor to perform work on real property that they own. This has imposed a burden to register as a contractor on persons or entities not performing any actual construction work, such as “house flippers” or developers, who retain general contractors to perform work for them, and do not so much as lift a shovel of dirt to improve the property that they own.