Dealing with a scummy contractor.

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by GFLPraxis, Jul 10, 2010.

  1. GFLPraxis macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Hello MR,

    I recently bought my first house, a repo, for $60,000 (Spokane market is extremely depressed at the moment) and hired a contractor to do a significant amount of work. The work that had to be done included:
    * new roof on house and shed
    * finish the unfinished top floor; insultation, drywall, etc.
    * remove the leftover electrical upstairs, which was outdated (knob and tube); downstairs wiring was already updated. Fix up electrical. Rerun electrical to the garage.
    * refinish the kitchen, installing a dishwasher
    * replace all of the carpeting downstairs.
    * Replace four broken windows
    * Heat ducts would be installed.

    We have this all on a written and signed contract, unfortunately, undated (although dates on the checks, which I have copies of, prove work dates).

    My recently divorced mother would move in the house to help me out with new homeowner things and with making choices for the work on the house until the job was over, at which point she would have been able to secure her own property and I could move a roommate in. This helps me out a bit. (I am 22 years of age)

    He had the lowest bid, but we did research; ensured he was licensed and bonded, etc. We agreed to a few things for the low price; he stated he had leftover shingles, tile, and carpet from previous jobs, and so we had to agree to go with what he had (which was just fine in my book). We also requested that he complete the downstairs by April 1st so we could move and not have to pay a small fortune at the apartment complex we were staying at. That was our move in date. The biggest warning sign was that he wanted a down payment of 60% of the total cost, which we flat out refused, and finally we agreed to paying out in large chunks as the work progressed.

    The contractor was initially very agreeable, and kept offering to do little extras, refusing to take money for it (like painting the downstairs). Over time, he started to go slower. The workers would show up at 11 and leave by 1, or claim to have worked but with no progress done. They were also sloppy, and things had to be redone; the flooring was improperly laid in the kitchen, for example.

    He also started adding extra expenses. All the work done was inspected; He stated that the inspector said he needed to add extra supports to redo the garage on the roof, for example, and that it would be an additional $800 for the lumber, no charge for labor. The first two additional minor expenses we agreed to pay, but when he tried to add some more costs to the electrical because of 'code requirements' we said, in a very polite manner, no, because we had a written contract that he would do this work, and if he wasn't aware of the code requirements, and what is being done isn't something outside of the contract, it was his responsibility.

    He got very upset, and came back the next day with a written list of "extras" that we hadn't paid him for- the things they had offered to do for free and refused to accept payment for (painting rooms, helping us install some hardware, etc)- and threatened to charge us for them. We argued that they had they had refused payment and that they couldn't turn around and ask for payments on things that offered for free. Finally, we came to a consensus; we paid out the money for that last extra, in exchange for him signing a second contract that there would be no additional charges for the rest of the job for anything agreed upon in the contract unless we requested additional work outside of the contract, and that he would eat anything required to complete the job that came up.

    We noticed a few odd things along the way;

    (1) All his equipment looked brand new
    (2) He would disappear for like a week without doing anything after receiving paychecks.

    At one point, after they had started on the roof, he asked if we could pay some more money in advance, to help pay for his workers, because he stated he was paying them out of his own pocket. We looked at the numbers, and determined that we had already overpaid him for the amount he had done; we were at 75% paid out, but only maybe 40-50% of the work done. When I let the contractor's assistant who was asking on his behalf know I would pay him a little more after the roof was completed, he got very angry, started talking about how much they had done for us, and how untrusting we were, and that they obviously weren't going anywhere, and then said they would walk off the job and check back next week to see if we had changed our mind, and left.

    This upset me (being threatened), so I arranged a meeting with the contractor, his assistant, myself, and my father (retired head of DEA for our region). The contractor acted as if his assistant had been too rash, assured me they would finish the job, and agreed to take another 5% payment after completion of the roof.

    We asked if he would agree on a deadline. I had company coming to visit in about one month (June 15th). He said he could have everything done "long before" then. We asked if he would agree to sign a contract stating that we would pay 2% extra as a tip if he got it done by that date, but that he would be penalized from the final payment if he did not; he did not want to sign anything along those lines.

    Two weeks later, the roof was nearing completion. I asked if he could have it done by July 15th, three weeks from that date. He stated, "no problem at all. We will have the roof done Friday, inspected Monday, and then it's all downhill."

    Friday passed. Monday came, and they finished it and had the inspector out in the evening while I was at work. He claimed the roof had passed, and collected the additional 5% from me; later turned out that the inspector had passed it on the condition of some minor fixes (I have the inspection report now).

    Over the next week, they did the minor fix (consisting of fixing some flashing around the chimney) and nothing else. He told me he would do the insulation on Thursday. I called him Thursday, and he said they were out buying it- no work done at the end of the day. Friday, he didn't show up. Monday, he had an excuse as to why he couldn't make it (wife's car broke down). Tuesday, no work done. Wednesday, they started insulation. Thursday, they completed insulation. Friday, no work done; he said the drywall company failed to deliver it.

    It has obviously been very slow- 4 months have passed. So far, I would say that the work is 65% done, and I have paid out to 80%. He is obviously not going to meet my deadline.

    I called him about an hour ago, to see where things were at. I asked him if he could simply get the drywall done by the deadline, without the bathroom. He said he was "not sure". I said I was a bit concerned, as almost no work had been done last week; and he erupted into a fit, literally screaming at me on the phone, that he was "sick and tired" of us trying to dictate their hours and he would walk off the job if I did again.

    I'm going to pay out for a hotel for my visitors out of my pocket; in the meantime, my plan is to try to get him to do as much work as possible without paying out any money. If he finishes the job, great, I'll pay him the rest. If he demands more payments, and walks out when I don't give it to him pending work completion...

    I'm not sure what to do.

    Can anyone suggest any course of action for me? :/
  2. Bonch macrumors 6502


    May 28, 2005
  3. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir
    Echoes of economic duress, breach of contract, failure to provide adequate assurances, repudiation and modification of a contract without consideration.

    The contract is for a service that is to be completed in less than a year, so it doesn't fall under the statute of frauds (and thus problematic written proof is not a problem - oral agreements are admissible in court).

    All of this means an obvious breach by the contractor. Your options: a) continue to work with him without getting the courts involved, or b) refuse to pay him any further and sue him for breach of contract, or c) terminate the relationship, obtain another contractor for a reasonable price, and sue the current contractor for the difference in price between what the contract terms said you would pay, and what you ultimately paid the new contractor plus reasonable damages for late performance (the cost you suffered from being forced to stay at the apartment longer than anticipated).

    For your situation, I think option c) is the best options because you need the work done quickly and you will get compensation. Oh, and screw the contractor all at the same time. The only downside is that you gotta get a lawyer and take him to court.
  4. Frisco macrumors 68020

    Sep 24, 2002
    Contractors are more despicable and dishonest than car mechanics.
  5. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Sounds like you fell into the general trap of hiring a single handyman with the lowest bid to do everything.

    Likely he isn't qualified to do everything, which is why hiring experts to do the roof/electrical/plumbing is best.

    Personally, from what happened I'd expect the roof to leak, the wiring to be incorrect, and the plumbing to have problems.

    And just because something passes inspection, doesn't mean it is right ... if there were any times he failed inspection of first try, it is quite likely.
  6. toolbox macrumors 68020


    Oct 6, 2007
    Australia (WA)
    Exactly i was just thinking the same thing.

    I guess i can relate to you a little. My first house i am currently in to be pest inspected before i moved in here. I got a full written documented report saying my house is 100 percent OK.

    1 year later the guy comes around again ( different one ). I told him that i would be home at 5pm the guy came around at 4:30, leaves his card i call him he gets all wingy that i wasn't home wah wah wah even though i left messages with him to say i do not finish work at 5.

    So after his mini spak on the phone - he comes around and just gets his torch out looks at all the walls - in and out of the house in less then 10 minutes didn't even inspect the roof space.

    2 weeks later 185 dollar bill thank you. I still do not have the documentation saying my house is ok.
  7. Tomorrow macrumors 604


    Mar 2, 2008
    Always a day away
    OP, this is hindsight, but something to keep in mind on future projects like this:

    1. It's altogether common to write a penalty clause into a contract based on an agreed-upon deadline. Without one, the contractor is free to take his sweet time.

    2. Even though it isn't in the contract language, it's not uncommon at all to get "freebies" along the way in exchange for "future considerations" later. These are usually small things, but again, not uncommon.

    3. You were having work done by multiple trades. A small-time contractor (who pays employees out of his own pocket!) is not typically the type who would do roofing, drywall, HVAC, electrical, flooring, carpeting, etc. all on his own. This was probably not the job you want to go with the cheapest bid.

    In the future (which might not be all that far away, from the sounds of things), I would recommend you have someone far more knowledgeable than yourself work up the contract with your next contractor.

    Now, as for what to do about this guy: it sounds like you have everything well-documented. My advice is you hire an attorney. Seriously. This guy took advantage of your naivete already, don't let him do it again; go into the next round with someone (like the attorney) on your side. Good luck.
  8. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir

    (The "future consideration" thing is muddy, but unless there is CLEAR understanding by both parties that it is in return for future consideration (and it is clearly not the case here), it is most likely bull.)
  9. Tomorrow macrumors 604


    Mar 2, 2008
    Always a day away
    Bull? No, it actually goes on quite a bit - but generally when there isn't any animosity or distrust on the part of either the owner or contractor. There's nothing shady or unusual doing someone a favor and getting one in return. There really isn't any more to it than that.

    Is there a way to enforce it? Of course not - but then again, if your relationship with the contractor is a good one, chances are neither of you will ever need to enforce it.
  10. SuperCompu2 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 23, 2006
    I dont have much to add, but before this goes off on too much of a tirade about contractors, I just wanted to add my $.02:

    Only a small percentage of contractors (documented ones, anyhow) make up cases like this, and it usually falls under the lowest bid category. Respectable contractors do exist (I know many), and I feel like this growing stereotype of terrible contractors is spiraling out of control.

    References are your friend! Do some background research on contractors before hiring. It'll save a lot of headache down the line.

    OP: I hope this all works out for you in the best way possible, keep us updated! I'd like to se how this turns out.
  11. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir
    No no I'm not saying it's bull "in real life," I just mean it's gonna be viewed as bull in court - it won't be enforceable.
  12. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030


    May 18, 2004

    Something thing that isn't clear to me from reading that......does your contract with this guy specify any completion dates? How long ago did he start the job?

    As crummy as he is, he's still actually doing work, but just not as very fast?
  13. Tomorrow macrumors 604


    Mar 2, 2008
    Always a day away
    You're absolutely right. My mistake. :eek:
  14. GFLPraxis thread starter macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Update. The contractor started the drywall on the 11th. His workers showed up every day through the 15th, but managed to not even complete the panelling of one room. My 15th deadline comes and goes.

    Monday, I go down to the courthouse, do some digging, and make a surprising discovery; his license has been suspended for loss of insurance and bond, exactly one year from the actual expiration date (why one year? I'm guessing he failed to make a payment).

    So today (Wednesday), while I am at work, my father goes to the house and casually mentions to one of the workers that he heard the contractor had had issues with the bond the worker seems surprised.

    We call the contractor after I get off work, with my dad on the line and me listening and a device hooked up to record the call.

    He acts very polite initially (knowing my father is law enforcement), shooting his normal round of excuses. He says he hasn't been around due to a toe infection, says that he got his license back today and that there was just a paperwork problem, blamed his poor workers for not finishing the drywall in two weeks when pressed for why it was taking so long and claimed to have fired them, and agrees to look at the house and give us an end date tomorrow. He also claims that he did not finish by the deadline we orally agreed upon we had given him because of "extras", I had explicitly told him not to do any more extras for us on May 5th when he first tried to claim having done "extras" for us. My father mentions the work remaining to be done, and he starts protesting that he doesn't have to do some of it. When my father reads from the contract, he hangs up.

    My father calls back, and the contractor accuses us of editing the contract after he had signed it (despite the fact that the part of the contract we quoted was written by his daughter), but says his workers will be in tomorrow to finish the drywall and he doesn't intend to do other work after finishing the upstairs.

    I'm going to meet with a lawyer this week and see what I need to do. Also need to confirm he's telling the truth about having his license back. I have photographs of the work done in the period that he had no license, so he can be fined for working without a license and bond I believe.
  15. stonyc macrumors 65816


    Feb 15, 2005
    Gather evidence, make copies of every document and document/tape everything that he says or does (workers and assistants included). Then fire his ass and file breach of contract. He has obviously not lived up to his end of the deal (multiple times) and on top of it he wasn't licensed or insured to begin with! File BBB claims and contact your state AG if necessary. Do not under any circumstances allow him to do any more work for you. You were right to be suspicious and to let him do any more work (especially after he neglected to mention that the roof inspection only passed with several conditions, AND collected money from you) would be putting your house and your family in jeopardy. I would get a building inspector to go over the work and make sure that everything he has already done is actually up to code.

    You had a plan and a vision of how you wanted things done, which I commend... but I think you could have done two things a bit differently: 1) although you found out about his suspended license well into the project, this is something you could have found out had you done a more thorough check on his background before he started, and 2) the lowest bid isn't necessarily the best bid, if anything you could have scrutinized him even further... why was his bid so much lower than the others? if being cost-effective was important to you (which it should be for everyone I might add), then maybe you could have scaled back some of your plans to get the more essential work done first (electrical, basic living spaces, etc.), then done a second stage of work later (or done it yourself perhaps).

    You're in a very expensive and potentially dangerous place right now... if it were me, I would not trust this guy to complete the work. I know there is that sense of "I just want this done, I just need to put up with this guy for a little while longer..." but you can't afford to think like that. You need to think of safety first, and preserving what resources you have left next.
  16. tlauer2 macrumors newbie

    Jul 22, 2010
    If a contractor gave me a bag full of scum I would sue him.

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