Killer Subcontract Provisions

Two businessmen across from table with contracts

There are a number of problematic contract provisions that appear in many agreements.

January 20, 2020
Patrick McNamara - Porter Law Group

We are frequently requested by subcontractor clients to review the subcontract that has been prepared by the prime contractor, before our client signs it. While no two agreements are identical, there are a number of problematic contract provisions that appear in many agreements. Here is a list of ten such provisions (and their variations) that are potential “deal breakers”:

  1. PAY IF/WHEN PAID (e.g. “Contractor shall have the right to exhaust all legal remedies, including appeals, prior to having an obligation to pay Subcontractor.”) “Pay-if-paid” provisions (“Receipt of payment from Owner shall be a condition precedent to Contractor’s duty to pay Subcontractor”) are illegal in California. However, the only legal limit on “Pay-When-Paid” provisions is that payment must be made “within a reasonable time.” The example above, as written, essentially affords the prime contractor a period of several years following completion of the project before that contractor has an independent duty to pay its subcontractors – not a “reasonable” amount of time, to those waiting to be paid. A compromise is to provide a time limit, such as 6 months or one year following substantial completion of the project.
  2. CROSS-PROJECT SET-OFF (e.g. “In the event of disputes or default by Subcontractor, Contractor shall have the right to withhold sums due Subcontractor on this Project and on any other project on which Subcontractor is performing work for Contractor.”) Such provisions are problematic and likely unenforceable, as they potentially bar subcontractors’ lien rights. Such provisions should be deleted.
  3. CONTRACTOR/SUBCONTRACTOR RESPONSIBILITY FOR DESIGN QUALITY (e.g. “Subcontractor warrants that the Work shall comply with all applicable laws, codes, statutes, standards, and ordinances.”) Unless a subcontractor’s scope of work expressly includes design work, this provision should either be deleted or modified, with the addition of the following phrase: “Subcontractor shall not be responsible for conformance of the design of its work to applicable laws, codes, statutes, standards, and ordinances.”

Mr. McNamara may be contacted at


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