Suing a Contractor

I was wondering if someone could give me some advice on how to go about either legal action against a contractor or simply getiing him to complete the job. He said it would take 3 1/2 weeks and over 3 months later he is maybe 50% done. In order to expedite things we came to the agreement that we would use the last 25% to get the roofing contractor, concrete guy, garage door etc. which he agreed to. Of course, this is going to end up costing more money. This guy agreed to a $22,000 contract and now is trying to tell us about his expenses which my husband who knows contracting says is rediculous. We need to get this job completed. I was wondering if anyone had filed a law suit against their contractor. I was thinking of simply sending him a letter stating we would need have another contractor complete the job and would be taking legal action against him. I would rather just have this guy complete the job but he disappears everytime it’s time to do anything–purchase kitchen, etc. Please help if anyone has had any experience or can give any advice.

A couple of things first… This is exactly why you should NEVER give a contractor a deposit. I buy all my materials myself and the contractor is providing labor ONLY. If they don’t agree, they don’t work for me. And no one gets paid until the job is complete. It’s amazing how responsive these guys are when you ask them to finish a small job and you have $10,000 check for them.

Take lots of pictures. This is where a good small town local lawyer is priceless. I hire guys who work out of small offices (converted homes) their fees are reasonable and they really value you as a client. Get one of these guys on this idiot right away and make sure his letter states that he will be notifying the state licensing board. Then get rid of the loser. He’s never going to finish your project and you don’t want him to. Make sure you have a picture of the house the way he left it. I have used a newspaper held up in the corner of the pic to establish a date reference. In my experience (15 years)
the lawyer’s letter works 80% of the time. But either way gets the project finished. Don’t let this guy eat up any more of your time because that equals increased holding costs and lower profits for you. If you have to sue it will take a while and then chase will still be on. If you think you’re having trouble getting him to show up wait 'till you try and get a judgement payment from him. The oldest trick in the book with these guys is to declare bankruptcy and leave everyone in the learch. Next day ABC construction is back in business as XYZ construction.

Thank you very much for the information. We own this property half with a realtor who is friendly with my husband. He has done quite a few projects over 12 years but this is the first one that he let someone handle all of the sub contracting–BIG MISTAKE! I would like to see the kitchen get done but I know he doesn’t probably have the money–don’t ask me what he did with it cause he didn’t spend it on the job, although he tries to say that he did. My husband will probably end up finishing this job in the long run–but I would like to see the kitchen complete and the capping on the windows done. We’re going to be out some money. I’m hoping to get out of this thing with a SMALL Profit!—LIVE and LEARN! Do you thing a simple letter from us stating that we will be bringing legal action is a wise thing to do or will he run further from the job! We trusted the words “Born Again” on his business card. Can you just sue in small claims court since it will probably be in the $5,000 range? That way you would be able to handle this yourself–although I don’t know readily how to do this.

Thank you again for the information you provided.

You can sue by yourself in small claims. But, the bottom line here is getting money or service. Court can go either way. I’ve seen what I thought were slam dunk cases go the other way. Do yourself a big favor. Call a few local attorneys (small guys) Tell them you and your husband are in the real estate business and that you rehab houses. Your looking for some advice on this situation, ask him if he could send a letter on your behalf. It always looks better if the letter comes directly from the lawyer. Ask how much he charges for a letter and tell him you can send him some work with closings, title work, ect. REMEMBER lawyers can be a GREAT source of estate properties. And now do this… Have him send the letter giving your contractor 1 week to get the kitchen in or go to court that’s it… No negotiation take it or leave it. Then when the bill for your lawyer arrives pay it IMMEDIATELY.
My lawyer tells me that I am THE BEST paying client he has ever had. When I get his bill it’s paid THAT DAY. You would not believe the free advice a lawyer will give a great customer. Phone calls are immediately returned and this guy is a pit bull if I need him to be. It’s just smart business.

As a general contractor myself, I’d ask you several questions.

Is this person a licensed and bonded contractor in your state?
Did you ask for references and check his work and talk to those references?
Did you get a fixed bid?
Did you work out a “draw” system for payment?
Did you add to the contract how long the project will take and what would happen if either of you default on any part of the contract?

If you didn’t fully check this person out and do the above - you have some blame as well. If after several weeks, he is not performing - fire him. Cut your losses. If he is a general contractor then you hopefully have a “draw” payment schedule worked out. In other words, he doesn’t get paid for anything he has not completed up to the last draw. That way you don’t lose money - only time - if he defaults on his contract.

Suing this guy is not going to get you anything except an attorney’s bill. Cut your losses and find someone else or be your own general. This guy probably doesn’t have any money anyway (you can’t get blood out of a turnip) and by threatening him - I’d assume he’s not going to work any fast or better for you. He’ll probably just never show up again. Being heavy handed never works. If I got a letter from an attorney to get the job done in 1 week or go to court. I’d say - see ya! especially if you paid me up to the last draw. We are even at that point.

If you have a construction arbitration board in your state, use it. If not, fire the guy and get someone else. Time is money so drop the dead weight and move on. Suing people is never a good idea - threatening to sue is a worse idea.

P.S. I’ve worked for attorneys most of my life. They NEVER return phone calls and charge you for every minute they can. A $5000 retain can be eaten up in a couple weeks. Be very careful hiring an attorney. They are only good when you get in a legal jam if you ask me - like jail LOL. (Petemfa - if you found a good one, that’s great)

I’ve had guy’s respond to lawyers letters. It lets them know it’s not a joke jerking you around. Sending a letter and suing are two totally different things.

I’ve never paid a retainers fee to a lawyer in my life. That would be like putting a contractor on retainer. The whole point I was making was you are making a lawyer part of your team, he’s no different than your framer, electrician or plumber (he may think he is) but the bottom line is if he knows what is expected of him by a good paying client he’s an idiot to lose that and you don’t want to hire idiots.

It goes back to hiring small time lawyers who work for themselves. You bring him some business he brings you some in return. They are out there and not hard to find. I can tell in a 5 minute conversation if I want to deal with a person or not. NEVER GO AGAINST YOUR GUT FEELING.
If I don’t get a return phone call, he gets one from me telling him I’m going down the street to the next guy in the phone book. Ever see how many lawyers are listed in the yellow pages. If you don’t demand service you WILL NOT GET IT. Ever wonder why wealthy people are usually very demanding. Because we’ve dealt with a ton of nit wits to get to where we are. I built my business from nothing, learned everything the hard way. Cherdwelth is right, cut your loses and learn from them. Although I personally would send the lawyers letter. You’ll be surprised, if he knows your playing hard ball he might finish just to get you off his back. If not forget him.

I certainly appreciate everyones opinions and responses and respect them. I don’t intend on retaining a lawyer but was trying to put a little fear in him–wasn’t sure if it would make him run the other way or simply get him to complete a few things–like the Kitchen! Anyway, your absolutely right–we partnered with someone that we thought had a lot more knowledge then we did and we were wrong. It went against everything that I have been reading online. This guy had known the person we partnered with for a long time but didn’t know his work. The last draw was the problem and I think that will be our loss–probably abnout $6K. My husband will be the one to finish this job ADEQUATELY. Live and Learn–thanks again for all the advice.