Our contractor will soon be completing houses for families who lost their homes following a cyclone. The families own the land but the houses are completely new. What is the best process for handing over the houses to the families?
Thank you for your question. There are a number of considerations when handing over newly completed houses.
First, ensure that everyone is clear what is understood by ‘complete’ because this can vary in different cultures and also between the NGO, contractor and the families. The easiest way to avoid ambiguity is to use the word ‘complete’ for when the construction is complete, any ownership documents have been presented to the families and a handover ceremony has been carried out. But be aware that families may expect to move in before any of this has happened, or that they may not be able to move in until some time afterwards.
Before you hand over the houses you must check that the contractor has completed all the work described in the contract. This stage is usually called ‘practical completion’. Your team should check all the houses carefully with the families and list any outstanding issues. This is usually called ‘snagging’. If there are minor defects, e.g. small pieces of decoration or components that require adjusting, then agree a period of time with your contractor to finish this work, if this process is not already described in your contract. A small percentage of the contract value is usually retained during this period to ensure the contractor completes the work.
Check the formal laws and informal traditions concerning property ownership well ahead of handover so that you understand clearly what the families need to have in place to be recognized as owners of the new houses. In some cultures ownership of the land is enough, in other cultures further documentation will be required concerning the house itself. Ensure that vulnerable groups are protected, for example ensuring the appropriate names appear on any legal documents, including both male and female heads of the household and especially orphans and their appropriate guardians.
A handover ceremony may be appropriate, and it may even be a necessary condition of house ownership. Make sure everyone understands the significance of the ceremony and plan the timing carefully. If handover documents are required make sure these are presented to families before or during the ceremony and not afterwards to avoid confusion. Families may want to wait until all houses are complete, or they may be happy to have multiple ceremonies as groups of houses become complete.
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