Across State Lines | Differences Between Oregon and Washington Law That Contractors Need to Know2020-12-02T21:43:41+00:00
12.02.2020 // Construction, CONSTRUCTION LAW WATCH
Across State Lines | Differences Between Oregon and Washington Law That Contractors Need to Know

Part 1


Although many contractors do business in both Oregon and Washington, few pay attention to how differences in state laws can affect a contractor’s ability to get paid when a project goes south. This is the first in a series of articles on key differences between the laws of Oregon and Washington of which you should be aware.


Choice of Law/Venue Restrictions

I know, I know – I’m starting out with a very “lawyerly” topic, but how these provisions are treated as between the two states varies greatly. This is referring to the provision in your contract that mandates *Minnesota law is going to apply and that any dispute – even for projects constructed in Seattle – are going to take place in *St. Paul, Minnesota. Can such a provision be enforced? Standard lawyerly response: It depends.

If the Project is in Washington, yes – such a provision is enforceable and *Minnesota law will apply and, unless the parties otherwise agree, the contractor will be required to arbitrate or litigate its dispute in *St. Paul. This can be tricky if you have lien rights and are forced to initiate a foreclosure action in Washington. It can also be expensive and cumbersome if all of your witnesses are located in the Northwest.

If the Project is in Oregon, no – such a provision is not enforceable. ORS 701.640 specifically voids any provision in a construction contract that attempts to make such contract subject to the laws of any other state or that requires litigation, arbitration, or other dispute resolution to be conducted in another state. See also, ORS 15.320 (requiring Oregon law apply to contracts for construction work performed primarily in Oregon). Note, ORS 701.640 only applies to construction contracts – not equipment rental agreements or design contracts.

Retainage Caps

We’ve all seen contracts with retainage of 10% – is that allowed? In Washington, yes if the project is a private job. In Washington, there is no statutory cap for private projects. If the project is a public project, retainage can’t exceed 5%. RCW 60.28.011. In Oregon, it does not matter if the project is public or private – retainage is capped at 5% period. ORS 279C.555 (public); ORS 701.420 (private). And be reminded that in Oregon, for all contracts over $500,000 retainage must be kept in an interest-bearing account. This applies to owners, contractors, and subcontractors alike.


Ball Janik LLP was founded in 1982 with six lawyers and a four-person support staff in Portland, Oregon. Since our firm’s inception, we have expanded our capabilities, our professionals, and geographic footprint. What started as a firm focused in real property and land use (known then as Ball Janik & Novack), has grown to include the insights of a team of 30-plus attorneys, with a combined six centuries of experience, and capabilities including Real Estate and Land Use, Construction Defect, Commercial Litigation, Insurance Recovery, Construction and Design, Employment, Finance and Corporate, Public Agencies and Schools, and Community Associations. With offices in Florida and Oregon, our regional growth has earned us a national reputation for upholding the rights of our clients.

Ball Janik LLP has been recognized by Chambers USA, U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®, The Best Lawyers in America©, and Corporate International. Ball Janik LLP’s success and integrity have repeatedly made it one of “Oregon’s Most Admired Professional Firms,” according to the Portland Business Journal’s survey results of CEOs throughout the region.

Angela M. Otto
Portland, Oregon
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