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 thereafter, 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 wit’s end. The situation has been going on for a couple of months and you’re nowhere near where you should be with your home remodeling project. You wonder what you should do now and more importantly what rights you have if any at all. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do when a contractor does shoddy work.

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. Even if you’re not in California these guidelines will help you legally should you find yourself faced with this problem.

• 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 Contractors State License Board.

At this point, the Contractors Board 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 Contractors Board 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.

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. (California B&P Code Sections 7108, 7108.5, and 7120 address diversion/misuse of construction funds.)

In the State of California, the Business and Professions (B &P) Code provides protection for consumers who hire contractors to perform home improvement projects. The following is a brief summary of applicable sections of the law that relate to the timely and successful completion of home improvement projects.

* B&P Code Section 7151.2, Home Improvement Contract, defines a home improvement contract as follows:

“Home improvement contract” means an agreement, contained in one or more documents, between a contractor and an owner or between a contractor and a tenant . . and includes all labor, services, and materials to be furnished and performed thereunder.

* B&P Code Section 7159, Requirements for Home Improvement Contracts, identifies the projects for which a home improvement contract is required, outlines the contract requirements, and lists the items that shall be included in the contract or may be provided as an attachment. Among home improvement contract requirements are the following subdivisions:

* 7159(c)(3)(A) Before any work is started, the contractor shall give the buyer a copy of the contract signed and dated by both the contractor and the buyer. The buyer’s receipt of the copy of the contract initiates the buyer’s rights to cancel the contract pursuant to Sections 1689.5 to 1689.14, inclusive, of the Civil Code.

* 7159(d)(9)(B) Each progress payment shall be stated in dollars and cents and specifically reference the amount of work or services to be performed or any materials and equipment to be supplied.

* 7159(d)(10)(C) The approximate date on which work will be commenced.

* 7159(d)(11)(B) The approximate date of completion.

* 7108. Diversion of funds or property received for prosecution or completion of a specific construction project or operation, or for a specified purpose in the prosecution or completion of any construction project or operation, or failure substantially to account for the application or use of such funds or property on the construction project or operation for which such funds or property were received constitutes a cause for disciplinary action.

That’s the legal verbiage and you should look to it should you have any questions regarding your contractors’ performance on the job.

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., inclement 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 payments.

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 who you end up with. If you don’t take the time to check out the contractor your chances of ending up with the “contractor from hell” is a sure bet.

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

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