Small Claims or Get a Lawyer?
August 11, 2011 2:28 PM Subscribe
Should I take my issue to small claims court - or do I need a lawyer?
posted by anonymous to law & government (15 answers total)
I am considering a venture into small claims court. I know you are not my lawyer - but I would appreciate your input.
I am contractor in Florida. I am fully licensed, insured, and bonded. I can (and often do) pull construction permits in the jurisdiction where this occurred.
I did some work for a local restaurant / bar. They still owe me $4,823.00. I can easily prove that we had a contract, that they know they owe me, and that they were fully satisfied with my work. I can also break-down and justify the out-standing invoice. And, I show that they are being arrogant jerks who believe they just don't have to pay. I have lots of documentation (texts, phone messages, emails, other paper-work, and of course, the contract).
Being a Florida contractor, I also have some free time right now. (My industry is currently going through some tough times, but I am surviving.) I know I could hire a lawyer. I know I have a case. But I might try small claims court.
But, there is a problem - the work was done without a permit. The penalty for this is a fine of several hundred dollars. Plus, it is damaging to the relationship that I have with the building department in that jurisdiction.
The involvement of the building department would hurt the restaurant worse than me. We corrected a lot of problems for them, but not all of them. Even though I saw lots of construction code violations, I only did the work they were willing to pay me to do. If the building department knew what I know, they would shut the restaurant down. (Which, I know, is the very reason a licensed contractor is supposed to pull permits in the first place.)
Much of the work was service and repair (which does not need a permit) - but admittedly, about a third of the invoice is new installation (which does require a permit). The owners of the restaurant / bar specifically asked for no permit, but I have no record of that, and I am supposed to know better anyway.
I am definitely persuing my claim against the restaurant. I will pay a lawyer, and let the lawyer keep all the money, before I walk away from this one. There has just been too much bad blood to let it go.
But I would rather keep all the money, and not hire a lawyer. The restuarant will not raise the permit issue in court, it hurts them worse. I will not raise the issue either. What does it even matter to the existing completed contract?
So, the question is: Should I get a lawyer, or try small claims?
Is this the right case for my first venture into small claims? Or, is the permit issue more serious than I think?
What other issues should be thinking of?
Bonus: Does the lack of a permit impact their duty to pay after I completed the contract? I do not think so, right?
Thank you in advance for your input.