When is a Construction Project truly “Complete”? That depends. (law note)

by Melissa Dewey Brumback

Crossing the finish line 
Substantial Completion = Crossing the finish line?


Long-time readers of the blog may remember my earlier post on substantial completion.  However, in looking over my blog stats to see what search terms lead people here, it looks like this is hot topic.  The blog searches came in two general categories:

1.  Those searching strictly for a definition of substantial completion.  Some examples:

  • What does “substantial completion” mean?
  • when does a building achieve substantial completion
  • contracts “substantial completion”
  • substantial completion undefined
  • when is a project substantially complete

For those of you who want a definition, I refer you to my earlier post.  Essentially, however, the term is not always defined, which can be part of the problem.  If you are using AIA contract documents, there is a built in description that defines it as when the Owner can occupy or use the building.  Even the AIA definition, however does not state that there must be a permanent or temporary certificate of occupancy before substantial completion can occur.  While some might presume that a certificate of occupany is required, better practice would be to include language that specifically states that substantial completion also requires that the Contractor deliver to the Owner a certificate of occupany.

This leads to the second major category of blog search terms related to substantial completion:

2.  Those looking to compare substantial completion with certificates of occupancy.  Examples include:

  • certificate of substantial completion vs certificate of occupancy
  • substantial completion or final completion
  • completion vs substantial completion
  • construction certificate of substantial completion

This can be a confusing distinction, but in reality the two are generally unrelated to each other [unless you state that a Certificate of Occupancy is part of the Substantial Completion process.] 

A Certificate of Occupancy is issued by the Building Department official when the building fulfills all requirements to be safely occupied.  In contrast, a Certificate of Substantial Completion is requested the contractor and granted by the architect.  Sometimes things that need to be completed before the architect can issue a certificate of substantial completion do not prevent the building of receiving Certificate of Occupancy.  [Unless, that is, you are in an odd jurisdiction, where a Building Inspector will demand a Certificate of Substantial Completion before issuing a Certificate of Occupany.] 

A final note:  for those who were wondering about Final Completion, this occurs after the final inspection; i.e., after the architect verifies that the punch list is complete and all contract terms have been met.   [The punch list work can be conducted while the Owner has beneficial use of the building.]  At Final Completion, the final Certificate of Payment is issued.

Confused yet?  You are in fine company in scratching your head over this one.  Check out this discussion at the ARE Forum



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Melissa Dewey Brumback, Ragsdale Liggett PLLC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Melissa Dewey Brumback

Ragsdale Liggett PLLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.