Advice needed for recouping refund from bad contractor

newhomeowner-2009July 19, 2009

Ugh! This is a follow up to a previous message. I had a contractor do some roof work last summer after buying a house. He replaced half the roof, as the other half was much newer.

Well, a few weeks I got a trickle of water under the new roof. Just once, so I hoped it is a fluke. Now I got a real leak, and I need to get it fixed. I'm now learning that others have had problems with this same contractor. Tomorrow I call roofers to get it fixed, and I am mad as hell.

Jumping ahead a bit, assuming my new contractor finds the fault is bad workmanship, does anyone have any suggestions on how to proceed legally? This is about $9000 in work. any suggestions on how to proceed, by people who have been in this situation, would be appreciated. I assume I would have to hire a lawyer, but other suggestions apart from that would be welcome.

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You will not get far legally if you do not give him notice and allow him the chance to make repairs.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 4:52PM
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Has that been your personal experience? I have never heard of a requirement that if a tradesman does a bad job you have to give him an opportunity to be competent.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 8:24PM
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Local procedures sometimes require that process.

Other places allow suits for work obviously below standard. But, the verification has to be air tight---photos, builkding inspector statements, and so forth.

Call the local codes office or the local DA---see what they recommend.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 10:54PM
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The odds are he will just file bankruptcy and move on down the street. Happens everyday everywhere.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 10:14AM
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There is very little chance that you would ever recoup a dime even with the best documentation and the friendliest court system. You can certainly try, but it's likely to cost you as much in legal fees as you'd ever recoup, and if you were not successful, then your bad project would have just cost you double. If the dollar amount were small enough to go to small claims court and represent yourself, you might have a bit more success, but as was stated, some unscrupulous and intentionally fraudulent contractors would just declare bankruptcy and start over again. Some bad contractors aren't intentionally dishonest, just incompetent and in over their head trying to scrounge up business by taking jobs that they have no business taking. I'd first give your contractor the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was in the latter category rather than the former and give him the opportunity to rectify the bad job. In many places, it's the law that the tradesman has to repair the problem before engaging someone else to do it, and if you're thinking of legal action, you'd better take the right steps in the process to get any results.

It's probably better to just take this as one of life's expensive lessons and learn to research a project extensively before you begin and have a good knowledge base of the work being performed so that you would be better able to judge a contractor's potential competency. Competent licensed, bonded, and insured contractors do no have a problem giving you extensive references that you should contact and ask questions about his performance. And, get multiple bids from the same spec sheet that you work up yourself so as to be able to judge a fair market price for the job as an apples to apples comparison.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 11:29AM
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On the plus side from my standpoint: He is in a very small Catskills village, word spreads fast. So he is not exactly fly by night. He owns a home. I paid him by check made out to him personally, so he can't just put his company in bankruptcy. Not fly by night, just awful.

On the negative side: I heard that a fairly well known merchant had a terrible problem with him too recently. I can see ripping me off, but ripping off one of the biggest merchants in your area is suicidal or just plain stupid.

Another possible source of pressure is that he is in ServiceMagic, which is how I found him and which apparently means a lot to him.

Anyway, I have not determined yet that he is at fault. The first thing I have to do is find a contractor to determine what the problem is, and so far three phone calls and no return calls. This is typical in the Catskills.

Speaking of ServiceMagic--horrible! Stay away from them. I should post a note just on that. They have a survey after the job is done, and they don't publish negative evaluations.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 3:10PM
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"Has that been your personal experience? I have never heard of a requirement that if a tradesman does a bad job you have to give him an opportunity to be competent."

If you sue him for anything except gross dereliction he will simply tell the judge he was unaware of any issue, and was not allowed to remedy the problem.

You are just about assured of loosing under those circumstances.

Welcome to civil suits.
The preponderance of the evidence wins.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 3:52PM
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Come to think of it, I think that ServiceMagic might have some kind of guarantee of contractor work.

If his entire job is FUBAR, then it is gross negligence. Anyway, I won't do anything without talking to a lawyer.

But that's not my first step. My first step is to get a contractor to return my calls, and so far not a single one has.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 5:03PM
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Your first step should be to put the contractor on notice that you are not satisfied with the work performed.

Registered mail is good.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 11:21AM
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I think I need to determine, beyond any doubt, that the leak is caused by his negligence. Fortunately a contractor called me back and I should have an idea by this weekend.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 12:15PM
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I've also had a roof leak situation because of those rains we've had recently. I was told by a contractor that these rains are the worst in history, and that is true as there has been media coverage. He said that a lot of people are getting roof leaks nowadays.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 11:19AM
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If your area has a home improvement commission, contact them and file a complaint. Then, contact the contractor that did the original work and tell him you have had one assessment that the leak is due to his poor work. Let him know you are filing a complaint with the home improvement commission (if you have one). Ask him to look at it before you do, and correct the problem. Then get 3 estimates on where the problem is and if they all agree that it was due to poor workmanship, then you have an argument.

If you just have someone come in and redo everything, the original contractor can merely say the problem wasn't in an area he worked and, there's no proof since the roof has been redone. Also, if you give him an opportunity to fix "his bad", that would be the right thing to do since the problem might get resolved and everyone ends up happy. If he doesn't cooperate, then it's time to get tough.

Depending on locality and the watchdogs that are there, you can get some action. I coached a family member through this procedure over a poorly installed driveway and they received their $10,000 back, the contractor was fined (that amount) and his license was suspended for a year. He was not to be issued a license under a different company name in that time in that county.

As for the web based contractor referral, they receive an amount of money if they schedule a contractor.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 5:47PM
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Does your town, have a license broad of contractors, to report him to? That people can call and put in complains. They will send someone out to inspect the work. And people can see the contractors license, on their site and if they have any complaints. See if your town has one.They work with the home owner, to keep the bad ones from ripping people off. My husband is a contractor. Always get a contractors license #, check people he, has worked for. Is he, bonded, and Insured? Does he, belong to the BBB. A good contractor, will welcome you, to check him out. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2009 at 3:11AM
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No, we're out in the country. Only recourse is to sue.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2009 at 10:40AM
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I had a similar experience recently with the contractor I hired to remodel my kitchen. I paid him $6600 as a down payment. he made a total mess of my kitchen and my entire house. He took the sink out but let the water leak out of it and it flooded my family room. I had to fire him, but he would not refund me my money. I then found from online search that he had done similar things to 3 other people.
I am going to take him to the small court. I think small court is the place that you may be able to get some of your money back.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 10:57PM
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