Case summary: A property owner entered into a contract with a builder for the construction of an extension. Part of the works were not constructed in accordance with instructions. Before completion the property owner’s solicitors wrote to the builder alleging breach of conduct, stating that the builder had no authority to re-enter the property and asserting that remedial works were to be undertaken on the property owner’s terms. Proceedings were commenced by the property owner for return of the interim payments and damages for defective work. However, the proceedings were unsuccessful. The court held that the letter from the owner’s solicitor amounted to a notification that the owner regarded the contract as being at an end. This was unjustified and a repudiatory breach of the contract by the owner herself. The builder was therefore entitled to damages.

Comment: Although the property owner never expressly stated that she was treating the contract at an end she was deemed to have done so by her conduct. Aggressive letters asserting new conditions and preventing existing rights may be sufficient in themselves to communicate an intention no longer to be bound by the contract, even if this is not your intention. They may also be a repudiatory breach of contract, particularly if the other party is not in serious breach of the contract itself.

Margaret Tomlinson v Iain Wilson (T/A Wilson & Chamberlain) (11/05/07)