So you’ve decided to remodel your home and after doing your due diligence by checking on the contractors’ license status, references and other background checks, you feel confident you’ve made the right choice and sign the contract. Work begins and from all accounts things are going well.

But then you begin to notice deviations from the plan or shoddy workmanship, little or no progress becomes the norm and you call the contractor to discuss your concerns. He may discount your concerns, come up with “creative” excuses for the lack of progress or worse, begins cussing up a storm about your wanting “perfection” and when you defend your position he calls you “difficult to work with”. Shortly there after, he becomes a no show and you find yourself spending half your days trying to track him down. You’re frustrated, angry and at your wits end. The situation has been going on for a couple of months and you’re nowhere near where you should be with your remodeling project. You wonder what you should do now and more importantly what rights you have, if any at all.

This is one of the most frequently related problem and question I receive from homeowners and one that deserves a solid answer. I consulted with the Enforcement Chief for the Contractors State License Board (California) and the following is an outline (and commentary on my part) of what a homeowner should do when they find themselves faced with a non-compliant contractor.

If a project is behind schedule due to a contractor’s lack of diligence, the homeowner needs to send the contractor a letter that expresses his/her concerns, requests a commitment to sufficiently staff the project, and if applicable, request a new completion date.

If the contractor fails to respond to the first letter, a second letter should be sent that advises the contractor that if the pace of construction does not increase and a reasonable deadline is achieved, that he/she will have no alternative but to terminate the contractor, hire others at the original contractor’s expense to complete the project, and file a complaint with the CSLB (Contractors State License Board). The CSLB at this point may be able to assist the homeowner through mediation, arbitration, or provide information on other avenues for individual redress.

If warranted – and more often than not it is – the CSLB will take legal action against a contractor for violations of the Business & Professions Code.

If the contractor fails to heed the second letter, the homeowner may want to consider terminating the contract with a third letter. Of course, consumers considering terminating a contract should consider consulting with an attorney regarding any civil exposure they might have. In other words, be prepared for the possibility of being sued for “breach of contract”. However, all of your supporting documentation and written communication with the contractor will illustrate your continued efforts to bring the contractor to the table, so to speak, in an effort to continue working together. His lack of response will not bode well for him in a court of law and may result in a win, or at the very least, greater protection for you. Again, consulting an attorney at this point will be helpful in determining what the risks are for your particular situation.

Over all, consumers must take an active role in monitoring and tracking the progress of their home improvement projects. Many homeowners have related that it became their “second job” and key to knowing what to expect at any given point in the project. Open communication with your contractor is important; being in the dark leaves you vulnerable to unpleasant surprises.

Also keep in mind and be aware of unforeseen delays or problems that arise and may cause significant delays to the project’s completion. Inclement weather, material or labor shortage and problems with the permit could occur. On the other hand, excessive excuses such as labor and material shortages and lack of progress for long periods of time, i.e., a couple of weeks and nothing and no one coming around, should be a red flag and at the very least you need to investigate by contacting, for example, material suppliers and confirming any delays. The contractor could be – and this has happened to many consumers – misleading you and simply using the money you paid him for your project on someone else’s project he’s trying to play catch up on.

Remember to do the following:

1. Keep a job file and be sure to include copies of all papers relating to the project. Document work and any damages with photographs.

2. Keep an open line of communication with the contractor and be alert to any disruptions that may delay the project’s progress, e.g., in climate weather, material or labor shortage, problems with the permit, etc.

3. Do not let payments get ahead of work and keep a record of all

4. Do not pay cash-ever!

5. Do not make the final payment until you are satisfied with the
job. That’s your right.

One last note: A great contractor is a godsend and they’re out there, but you must do your background checks to ensure that’s whom you end up with. If you don’t do your homework, your chances of ending up with the contractor from hell is a sure bet.

Don’t take that bet with your home; save that one for Vegas!