I think i should fire my contractor, but don't know how to protect myself.
December 1, 2010 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I want to fire my contractor, who is doing a sloppy and unsatisfactory job of renovating my bathroom. I've never been a situation like this before (of hiring someone to do work on my home, and also of firing somebody) and could use some advice from people who have been through this process on whether or not i should fire him, and if i should, how to go about it with minimal collateral damage.

I own a condo in a 30 year old building. Because it's a concrete box, this means that the walls and floors are perfectly flat and square. Ergo, there should be minimal problems. This has not been the case.

Here's an incomplete list :
- He installed the tiles on my floor so unevenly that you can practically trip over some of them, and they aren't evenly spaced (he said he'd re-do them, but i'm not that confident in his abilities)
- He built a little wall niche beside my sink that isn't even square (the bottom is 1/2 inch narrower than the top.)
- His assistant did the plumbing for the new tub/shower, and because he hasn't put on the wall yet, i can tell it's leaking (which would have caused major water damage later on, had i not pointed it out to him.)
- He totally scratched up the seat lid of my brand new toilet, by using it as a table when he needed to set down his tools
- He has insisted that i have an unresolvable problem with my sink/vanity (which is european, and requires a bit of finicky work to get it to fit the canadian plumbing set up). I had a plumber look at it, who advised on a solution, saying that it was a simple thing my contractor could do. When i sent him an email about it (along with a list of the above problems) the only reply i got was "ask the plumber to do it". (which, of course, is an added cost to me.)
- My new tub is mounted on these wood blocks, which are supposed to be cemented to the floor and to the tub, but they aren't affixed at all - the tub is just sitting on them, and i can sort of nudge the blocks with my feet. He's already caulked the edge of the tub, which makes me think he's not planning on fixing this problem.

I am losing confidence in his ability to fix these problems, mostly because i feel a competent contractor wouldn't have created this long a list of problems to begin with. There is a substantial amount of drywall/finishing work that needs to be done as well, and that requires a pretty good eye for detail.

An important detail: we do not have a contract. We have a series of emails listing the work and providing a quote and agreeing to the quote. That's it. He quoted me $2k for materials (of which i guesstimate he's spent about $1k), and $3k for labour. I've only paid him the 2k. I've also spent a lot of money on things like scratched up toilets. In total, it should be about $12000 for the whole reno. (Although now it'll be more, because i have decided to have someone else do the tiling, and i need to pay a plumber to do the sink/vanity work. )

So, my question to you, Mefites:
1) Should i fire him? Or should i simply get these other tradespeople to do those sub-jobs and hound him about fixing the rest? If i don't fire him, how can i make him do a better job?
2) If i fire him, how much should i be paying him? He's spent a total of about 4 full time days at my place.
3) If i fire him, what do i need to worry about from a legal/financial perspective?
4)If i fire him, how do i go about it? I'm nervous.
5) If i fire him, how easy will it be to find someone else to finish this 30% done job?

This has all been a bit of a nightmare. Thanks in advance for your help.

(Oh, also: I'm in downtown toronto. If you have recos for someone for me to hire to complete the job, i'm open to them!)
posted by Kololo to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) Yes. Items 1,2,3, and 6 are entirely unacceptable for even an average handyman, let alone someone who calls themselves a contractor. The bit with the sink and the scratched toilet seat are unfortunate, but not to the level of the others.

2) Pay him for materials, assuming he provides receipts. Come to an agreement with him on labor.

3) No opinion, not familiar with Canada.

4) No opinion.

5) Your job is most likely -10% done. Anyone you hire will first have to undo his shoddy work. This type of thing happens all the time, they will be used to it.
posted by true at 1:59 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Lawyer up..
2. Fire him, do not pay
3. do not 2 first
posted by raildr at 2:01 PM on December 1, 2010

Yes! Fire him, he's an idiot. If he can't make something plumb, level, and square, and didn't even bother to check that his subordinate's work was leaking, he's a lousy contractor. Also, you have to live with the results and it sounds like it would drive. You. Nuts.

Let him submit a bill for what he's done and pay it. If it's exorbitant, argue it with him, but do pay for what he's done.

Note that unpaid contractors can, if they're sufficiently motivated, but liens against property, but I think it's much harder to do so on a cosmetic remodel. Also, just to make an offensive generalization, a great bulk of contractors are stoners and more likely to talk shit about you to their friends - whom you'll never cross paths with - than get themselves organized enough to do all the legwork required for a lien for a couple thousand bucks.

To fire him, just call him up and tell him what you said here. Tell him his work is sloppy, subpar, unprofessional, and you have no hope that you'll be happy with the results. Remember, YOU LIVE THERE, you have to look at that bathroom every day. He'll probably just say okay; if he begs to keep the job make him promise to freakin' do it right.

If you're willing to pay a reasonable rate, you should have no problem getting another contractor. It's still a remodel, remember, and all remodels require a little demo. Your next contractor won't mind it's been badly started because it makes no difference to him.

Good luck with your bathroom!
posted by goblinbox at 2:02 PM on December 1, 2010

3.FIRE Him (assuming it's a him)
posted by raildr at 2:02 PM on December 1, 2010

I can speak to #5: it might be very difficult to find someone good who is willing to finish the job. I had to find a replacement after the first contractor tore up a bathroom, got about 25% in and then didn't return for 5 months. Every contractor I spoke with after that, and I called several dozen, didn't want to take on the project because they didn't want to be held liable for the crappy work that had been done before. This was despite my offering plenty of money ($15K over estimate) and offering to sign a contract swearing I wouldn't hold the new guys liable for anything.

It took *10 months* to find someone who would finish the job and that was only because he was a former employee of the first firm who had left in disgust over shoddy workmanship and because his mother talked him into it after I burst into tears in her front yard while talking about the whole trainwreck.

So, the advice I offer is get a second contractor in there to look at the work and get him to agree, in writing, to finish the job before you fire the first guy.
posted by jamaro at 2:06 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Don't let the first guy do one more bit of work because it is true that most/all will need to be re-done.

- Don't close up the walls because leaky pipes and seals around tubs/toilets/etc = mold and water damage

- Photograph and document shoddy workmanship

Your problem here is that anything this fellow "fixes" may be worse than what was already done. He's in over his head skill-wise. Consulting a lawyer about how to ditch this fellow might not be a bad thing. I've had to redo stuff on jobs and never run into the problem Jamaro had, so I can't speak to that advice.

Is this guy licensed? Nth that the work is super shoddy, even for a handyman. Also, NEVER NEVER NEVER let anyone but licensed plumber near your pipes. I follow this rule for electrical work beyond light fixture installations, too, because the cost/risk/danger/headache down the road is just not worth it.
posted by jbenben at 2:42 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he can't make something plumb, level, and square

You don't even need to go that far. There's no excuse for unevenly spaced tiles. A bag of plastic spacers - which can be re-used - are cheap. If you're too cheap for the one time investment of $7 you can use tile scraps on-edge.

The degree of wrongness you describe is almost unbelievable in a professional, though "unbelievable" is somewhat strong considering just how much awful work is done.

Personally I'd say you should get a locksmith to re-key your door (assuming you've left him with a key in the past, or even just unsupervised) and deal with the consequences down the road. However you should consult someone up on Canada's laws on contracts and the like.

I'd do it on the phone, after the re-keying, and state simply that the quality of his work is unacceptable and you will no longer need his services. Don't get into a debate over the quality of the work, just fire him, make it clear you won't be paying a penny more. No sensible contractor does very much unpaid work without getting the next installment. If he did then you're doing him a favor and teaching him a lesson. However I think $1k for 4 days of work that's crappier than an untrained teenager can do is more than fair.

If you want to be on TV you could contact the Holmes on Homes people - this is right up their alley and they seem to do most of their shooting in the Toronto area.

As far as getting someone to re-do the work I don't think you're going to have too much trouble finding someone. Mind you, that's because a lot of your materials are now trash. Those tiles will all have to come up and the mortar chipped away. That is dirty and knee-paining work but it's not hard. Your badly done wall also will probably come down w/o a big issue. So you're going to pay to get some of this removed but it's not really any different than if you were hiring someone to do some demolition before refurbishing.

Sorry for your experience. It's a horrible feeling of violation to have someone come into your home, take your money, and make a big mess of things. Make sure you check references for your next contractor.
posted by phearlez at 2:50 PM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, this is sucky. You just suck it up, and realize that it will only get more sucky if you don't get him out of your house. My Bad Builder story involves the BF of a friend, alcohol, and hitting on me. Then having No Kitchen for 3 more months. I guess you just have budget in some suck.
posted by theora55 at 3:57 PM on December 1, 2010

Joining in the chorus to fire him. (Did you get references? If so, go ahead and call them and ask about his work, neutrally, without mentioning the mess you're in. I bet you won't be surprised.)

Is he working tomorrow? When he arrives, intercept him before he gets to work. If he's not there on time, call him and tell him you need to speak with him immediately. You're unsatisfied with his work, and his services are no longer required.

If he has left any of his own possessions at your place, collect them together, he needs to make an appointment to pick them up. If he has a key, he can return it at that time, but change the locks anyway.
posted by desuetude at 3:57 PM on December 1, 2010

Fire him, but do it in a very matter of fact and unemotional way. Try to avoid namecalling (like saying the work is "sloppy" or that he is "unprofessional") and instead merely state that the work is not the standard you were expecting and that, regrettably, you want to choose to find someone else to complete the work.

Why? Because it's not worth the hassle if the guy feels slighted or offended by your approach. Getting fired from a job can be a real ego bash for some people and they might feel compelled to sabotage the work or otherwise engage in passive aggressive behaviors that will ruin your day. Try to keep it clean, thank him for his work so far, and dismiss him from the job while not lying about the quality of the work (so he has no room to later claim you never told him this).
posted by wackybrit at 4:19 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Yes, fire him. On top of the problems you mention, there could be more. When a non-professional can see smoke, there's usually a pretty big fire.

- Find out if your contractor is licensed. Call that number and see if they can advise you about letting this contractor go.

- Read the Construction Lien Act to get a sense of whether your contractor can file a lien (especially if he is not licensed).

- Google things like "construction contractor law toronto" and "homeowner contractor law toronto" and "construction defect lawyer toronto" and make a list of five attorneys. IANAL and you should consult one.

- Around 9 am start dialing through your list of names. When you reach someone, explain your situation and ask if they think you need an attorney to fire this contractor. Would they want to be that attorney? What would it cost? Be a sympathetic person and seem concerned about money.

- Then tell your contractor that you do not want their services any more and that you would like to terminate the business arrangement.

- Be fair but tough in the negotiations about what to pay. As noted above, you'll have to tear out some of what has been done, adding to your costs. But if you do get into a construction dispute, it will be extremely costly.

- Put the termination note in writing and maybe make them sign a lien release as a condition of payment.

- Next time write a contract! Etc.
posted by slidell at 4:31 PM on December 1, 2010

I am contractor. The work you describe is pretty bad. It sounds like he deserves to be fired.

The only thing he can do is file a lien. If he does that, you will get a certified letter in the mail, and you can get a lawyer then. Keep any receipts now, settle up with him fairly, and take pictures of his work.

You shouldnt have any problem finding someone else. Contractors are hurting in this economy. But I will tell you, sometimes it costs more to correct a problem then it does to start from scratch. For example, you will basically have to pay for a new tile floor, but now you will also have to pay for the old one to be taken up.

And if you want good work, you should use someone with a license. It will cost a bit more, but the work is much more likely to be professional. Better to do a little less, and have it done right.
posted by Flood at 4:37 PM on December 1, 2010

What does your estimate say on a timeframe? I would base anything you owe him on how many days you have left in the quote. If the timeframe isn't halfway through and you say you don't want him back, he's got almost half your money and will probably be more interested in walking than finishing the job to get the full amount of the agreement.

Be polite but firm when you terminate your agreement, as contractors, tradespeople etc. do have their own social network and you wouldn't want to be labeled as a "bad job" yourself. It would be hard to find a contractor if he told all his buddies to avoid you! I have seen this happen in a small community where no one was willing to work on the job locally because there had been a fight over pay between the homeowner and the contractor. The homeowner ended up having to get people from out of town.

I would have a friend on hand when he comes to pick up anything he has remaining at your place. Not that anything would happen, but for your own peace of mind.
posted by cathoo at 6:09 PM on December 1, 2010

It would be hard to find a contractor if he told all his buddies to avoid you!

No. Most Contractors take pride in their work. Shoddy contractors are not really firmly nailed into the network.

There is a fair bit of Re-Fix work here, which is always pretty expensive.
But I am sometimes annoyed when Mike Holmes implies that all contractors are shoddy, and he addresses the worst case scenarios, with rather expensive solutions.
posted by ovvl at 7:01 PM on December 1, 2010

Yes, fire him. Cut your losses, stop bleeding money. Fire him in writing immediately. Be prepared that he may lien your condo for the $1000, though it is scarcely worth the court costs.

If you want to be on TV you could contact the Holmes on Homes people - this is right up their alley and they seem to do most of their shooting in the Toronto area.

Mike Holmes is now helping people screwed by home inspectors, and this job would be too small anyway.
posted by Dasein at 7:37 PM on December 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your help, everyone. Your feedback gave me the confidence to fire my contractor the morning after this post, and since then I've felt nothing but relief. (Although now we're dickering about money - he'd like more, i don't want to give him any. It's going to cost me a signficant amount of cash to repair the damage he's caused.)

The amount he wants is fairly small - $1000. But considering its going to cost $1200 to have someone rip out the marble tiles he poorly installed, i feel that I shouldn't be giving him a cent. (If i was going to be a dick and be all lawyer-y about it, I'd probably be suing him.)

So now i just need to decide if its worth the battle of wills or if i should just accept that i'll have to pay anyways!
posted by Kololo at 9:20 PM on December 4, 2010

The amount he wants is fairly small - $1000. But considering its going to cost $1200 to have someone rip out the marble tiles he poorly installed, i feel that I shouldn't be giving him a cent.

Offer him $300, let him counter with $500, settle for $400, and kiss the jerk goodbye.
posted by desuetude at 10:50 PM on December 4, 2010

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