Dealing with a bad contractor is almost a right of passage that every homeowner experiences at least once. A contractor who does shoddy work, does only part of the work you paid for, or demands more than the agreed price to complete a project can turn out to be a frustrating and costly experience.
There are steps to take to reduce the chance of having a bad experience with a contractor, such as only hiring licensed contractors and getting the terms of project in writing. If something does go wrong, you have rights ranging from withholding payment to hiring a construction law attorney to take the contractor to court.
You have rights when a contractor tries to take advantage of you, so use the information that follows to guide the next time you cross paths with a bad contractor. Also included are some of the steps that you should take when hiring a contractor to avoid getting involved in a bad situation.
Common contractor issues during home construction or renovations
Whether you are building a new home or hiring someone for renovations on an existing home, some of the issues you may need to confront include:
- The contractor gets paid before work begins and either never starts the job or fails to complete it: It is not uncommon for a contractor to ask for a down payment before starting a project, but it should not be for an excessive amount. For example, some states limit the down payment a home improvement contractor may request to 10% of the total cost of the job or $1,000, whichever is less.
- Not having a written contract with the contractor: A detailed, written contract describing the work to be performed, the price, the start and completion date, and the types of materials to be used avoids disagreements or makes them easier to resolve.
- The contractor does shoddy work: It is essential to check the quality of work a contractor does before signing a contract to hire them. Talk to previous customers and ask to see projects completed by the contractor.
- Hiring an unlicensed contractor: A license issued by the state, county, or city usually requires that contractors pass a test or produce proof of competence in their particular trade or craft, which lets you know that the electrician, plumber, or the contractor repairing a garage door has the basic skills needed to do the job.
If you run into an issue on a project, you should immediately bring it to the attention of the contractor and discuss how to resolve it to your satisfaction. Should that fail to resolve the issue, there may be other options available to you.
Recourse available when contractor issues arise
When issues arise with a contractor that cannot be resolved through talking, which may be the case when the contractor has left the job site and refuses to return your calls, you need to take action. The following are steps you should consider taking:
- Replace the contractor: Firing the contractor and bringing in someone else to complete the job may be a breach of contract unless you document that you followed the terms of the contract to try to resolve the conflict. For example, some contracts contain an arbitration clause requiring that the parties resolve disputes, conflicts, or disagreements by submitting them to binding arbitration. Refusing to submit to arbitration could be a breach of contract. Talk to an attorney if you are uncertain about the terms of the contract.
- Binding arbitration: If your contract contains an arbitration clause, use it. Arbitration is a quick and inexpensive method to resolve disputes by submitting them to an impartial party who considers the facts and evidence and makes a decision.
- Mediation: Your state or local government agency that licenses contractors may have a mediation service that will attempt to negotiate a resolution of disputes provided your contractor is willing to participate.
- File a complaint against the contractor’s license: The government authority that licenses contractors has the power to penalize a contractor who violates laws or regulations designed to protect consumers. A complaint could result in the revocation of the contractor’s license.
- Take the contractor to court: If a contractor has taken money from you and failed to perform the work as was agreed, hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit may be your best recourse for recovering the money that you paid.
What you should not do when you have an issue with a contractor is wait. State laws limit the time you have to file a lawsuit to recover damages for breach of contract, so waiting too long could result in the loss of the right to sue.
The best way to ensure a good experience with contractors is by taking the time before you hire someone to check references, confirm they have a valid contractor’s license, have a detailed, written contract covering all terms of the agreement, and limit the money that you pay in advance. When problems do arise, speak with a construction law attorney to determine the rights that you have under the laws of your state.
Steve Howards has been writing legal-centric articles for several years now. He started working with the personal injury attorney law firm Herrig & Vogt in 2019 as the Content Marketing Manager, which has allowed him to expand on his writing in personal injury, family law, and much more. Steve strives to offer the public advice on various laws covering a variety of practices.