Firing a contractor and estimating appropriate payment

zzazzlesMay 8, 2013

Unfortunately, I have to begin my first post here with a rather negative one. I think my situation qualifies somewhat as a disaster, so I think this forum applies =)

It turns out that the contractor I hired is totally incompetent in plumbing and electrical work. Both plumbing and electrical rough-in inspections failed--twice! The electrical contractor actually cancelled his permit, saying that he's not qualified to do the job.

My project involves: 1) converting half a garage into a new bedroom, and 2) converting a closet into a new bathroom. I thought the project is pretty simple; all the electrical/plumbing lines are exposed. I'm not doing anything fancy; just basic plumbing and electrical. No underground work. No outdoor work. I am dumbfounded as to why he cannot get the most basic things right. Some of his electrical work is downright dangerous.

On the other hand, his framing work seems fine. I think his finishing work is also fine. (My coworker referred him, and he used him twice on his two houses; I visited them both, and find his work good. That's why I hired him.)

We are at the stage now where the framing, rough-in plumbing, rough-in electrical is basically done (but not passing inspections). For the electrical work, I think only some minor fixes are needed at this point. For the plumbing work, we might have to relocate a vent. So it's not like everything needs to be redone. He cannot be on the electrical permit any more, so we either have to find an electrical subcontractor for him, or I get a homeowner's permit and do the work myself. In any case, I cannot trust him to touch any electrical work at this point.

My payment schedule was divided into 4 stages: 1/4 at start, 1/4 after 2 weeks, 1/4 after 4 weeks, and 1/4 upon completion. So far, I made 2 payments (or 1/2 the project cost). Our agreement (which we've both honored) is that I would buy all the custom materials (e.g. faucets, fixtures, valves, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, etc, etc...) while he is responsible for all the basic/building materials (2x4's, pipes, wires, etc.). I also paid for all the permits (which is a mistake in hindsight).

My dilemma here is:
Should I fire the contractor? And if so, is my payment about right? i.e. do you think that 1/2 the project cost is fair for completing framing and (flawed) rough-in plumbing and electrical?

Because I have visited my coworker's two houses, and I am reasonably pleased with the results, I think I'd be ok with his finishing work. But, if I let him continue the work, we'll have to hire an electrical (and possibly plumbing too) subcontractor; I'm thinking that I'll have to deduct that cost from the remaining payment, and I'm worried he might do a sloppier job because of that.

On the other hand, hiring a new contractor at this point is quite difficult--it's spring time and everybody is booked. I'll probably have to wait months.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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Has it been the job of the general contractor to provide the electrical and plumbing subs? Does your contract with him provide for those services or did you hire the subs? You are not clear on this subject. If it is the contractor';s subs then it is his responsiblelity to have these problems fixed. Not sure why who paid for the permit is a problem unless you think that leaves him off the hook. Assume the framing passed inspection? Under normal circumstances the framing, electrical and plumbing are each inspected seperately.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 8:34AM
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You're not really specific about the "defects" other than it is not passing inspection.

How are the plans not being followed? Are you using drawings that passed the building department's plan check office and have been stamped? If the contractor can't read the plans, then he is incompetent, and you need to find another.

If the things that are failing are not detailled on the plans, this is not really the builder's fault. If you left the job open for the inspector to make some interpretations, this lack of planning. Drawings should have sufficient detail to provide referrence for all aspects of the project that will be inspected to meet code. If they do not, it is not the builder's fault.

Some inspectors like to nit pick. Some are just jerks. Most just are trying to do their job competently. But none of them are "experts" in all areas of building. Few have any real trade experience. When they fail something, the reason should be perfectly clear. Even to a lay person or average home owner.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Since this is for a residential remodel, the city allows general contractors to do plumbing and electrical work. Currently, the generator contractor is on the plumbing and electrical permits.

Framing passed inspection ok. The problems with plumbing and electrical are not related to plans or anything. They are due to general incompetence. Just a few examples:

-he used 14-ga wire on a 20A circuit
-he ran ONE neutral (yes, white neutral!) for 4 circuits--all regular single-pole 120V circuits.
-grounds are not spliced properly inside outlet boxes
-he used the wrong plumbing fittings; like he used tee's when he's supposed to use combos
-he stapled the shower pan liner, which basically makes it useless
-he didn't preslope below the pan liner
-electrical emt conduits were touching copper water lines
-he used copper water pipe clamps as emt clamps
-he left old abandoned k&t wiring just dangling, not properly terminated at the knob
-he used old electrical outlet boxes, and just screwed them to studs from the inside

The list goes on, but that's the idea. See, none of this is due to plans being wrong, or not following plans, or anything of that sort. It's all due to incompetence/negligence/ignorance. Now, the inspectors (especially the electrical inspector) are picky, but I don't think they're unreasonable.

I paid for the permit (I had him write a letter authorizing me to get the permit in his name). This is somewhat of a problem because my contract with him therefore doesn't say anything about permits, inspections, or anything like that. I had just assumed (incorrectly on my part) that he would do a fine job and everything would pass, given how simple of a job this is. Since additional inspections (and in the case of electrical, getting a new permit) costs plenty of money in my city (about ~$300 for a new permit and $170 for every additional inspection), I don't want to be on the hook for this if he just keeps failing inspections time after time.

Hopefully this clarifies the situation a little bit.

I just talked with him this morning, and he said he'd get a licensed electrician that he knows to get the permit and oversee the inspection. He'd pay for the permit and pay him. This is easiest for me, but I'm not sure that I really trust his work any more. I LOVE my house--and I can't have him do the kind of s**t that he does. It's good that the inspectors seem to do their job, but they can't possibly inspect everything, which gets me worried.

However, hiring another contractor is difficult too. My building permit is ~$2500 is NOT transferable. To make this feasible, I'll probably have to recover some money from this contractor, which I imagine would be time-consuming and difficult. Also, the construction business is crazy right now--I called a few electricians and none of them got back to me. I had to wait 4 months to get a roof done. Good, competent contractors are booked at least 3-4 months out, if not until fall/winter, and that's too long. (It would've been fine if work hadn't already started--but now the house is a construction zone and I can't live here like this for too long.)

So there's another piece of my dilemma. Sorry for the long post and the ranting. Thanks for reading. And as always, any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:52PM
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After reading your list of things that failed in the inspection, you need a competent contractor to do the work, it is not the one you hired.

The things listed could contribute to someone being electrocuted and also your house to burn down.

I strongly advise getting a new contractor even if it means waiting a while and/or costing more money. It is not worth the risks you currently have.

Be glad the inspector picked up on the problems now and not allowing them to be covered up. If they were covered up, there would be a disaster waiting to happen.

I was almost electrocuted due to an electrician wrapping a 220 wire around in front of a 2x4 stud and a nail was put through middle of the 220 wire when attaching sheet rock. In later years there was plumbing problems upstairs over the area, wall got wet and when I touched the wall, bam, got a 220 jolt. All I did was touch the wet sheet rock with a mop, not the nail. The wall was "hot". Inspector could not see the wrapped 220 wire, sheet rock was already installed.

It is better to be safe than sorry.

Hope this will be of help in your decision making.
By the grace of God I am here to share my experience and perhaps help you prevent similar results.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 3:11PM
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"I was almost electrocuted due to an electrician wrapping a 220 wire around in front of a 2x4 stud and a nail was put through middle of the 220 wire when attaching sheet rock."

Yikes! And to think good people PAY to have idiots like these put their lives in danger.

I'm looking for an electrical contractor and am glad I found this thread.

If I were the OP, I'd get rid of this guy before he does another thing. He sounds so incompetent, I'd be nervous about what he has already done.

Can you ask the building department for a list of the people they recommend? Or at least whose work they respect?

Thats what I'm doing.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 11:35AM
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Zzazzles, first of all, relax, don’t panic and don’t make any rash decisions. I have been called in on tooooo many projects over the years to rescue property owners from problems contractors.

For the most part, the contractors always had competency problems but it’s usually due to a poorly hired project manager or a poorly chosen subcontractor. In every circumstance however, the contractor was usually chosen by the property owner based on price and not skill level or quality of workmanship.

Not saying this happened here but I have never seen high quality, premium contractors not remedy problems on jobs themselves. Almost all projects have some sort of problems even if the property owners don’t know about them.

You have two clear choices here. First option is to fire the contractor and look for a replacement. This may seem easy but in the end, it’s far more problematic then most people realize. You will need to settle with this contractor financially. There will usually be disagreements which could land you in court. NOT RECOMMENDED!!!

Depending how your contract is written, you usually need to give written notice. You may also be required to give the contractor 3 to 10 days to fix the problems. Again, depending on how your contract is written, if you fail to take these contractual steps, you will be in breach of contract and can be held liable in court.

Replacement contractors usually charge far more and you will likely need to wait. Then you get into the game of which contractor made what mistakes, warranty issues and finger pointing.

Even though this contractor has some problems with the electrical and plumbing, I recommend the second option, which is to keep this contractor. However, make sure the work is done correctly by finding a qualified Master Electrician and Master Plumber to finish the work.

On dreamgardens recommendation, start with you plumbing and electrical inspectors. Call them and ask who is doing quality work out there and try to bring them in to finish the mechanicals.

Before going any further, negotiate with your contractor for new payment terms while you have the leverage. Tell him you want him to complete the job but you are nervous and not paying for anymore work until the work is completed and inspected. Move the one fourth due upon completion to one third due upon completion. Money is the medicine for contractors’ pain, if they are owed more money; they tend to be more responsive.

Finally, never pay a contractor based on time. Never give a deposit and only pay for work completed or materials delivered. Any contractor worth his salt can live with those terms and if they can’t, it usually means they are not financially suited for the project. Which is usually why their prices are low and you end up getting what you pay for.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 3:21PM
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