Lien on me...
May 21, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Roofer wants to come back and request double the amount already paid on a signed contract, and are threatening a lien on the house, what can we do?

Our roof was leaking so we got a few estimates and went a reputable company. During the time they were working on it, there were some complications, and they saw they had to redo the roof. It was indeed most likely built incorrectly by the original contractors (long story) so OK. The contract was for 15 thousand. During the job complications arose, we set a loose verbal agreement for an additional 14K.

After doing some research and asking around, 30K for a house our size is overpriced. The contractor came back here, no invoice, no paperwork on the extra costs, kept saying that he was a family man, trying to emotionally appeal. Saying that the business is paying out of pocket, etc.. We agreed to pay 3-4K extra, possibly 5K because we did acknowledge that they went a little above/beyond in the work. He wouldn't budge, and threatened to come back with an invoice for much more than the additional 14K.

We have a signed contract that says paid in full (for the 15K we paid), we have not signed anything else at this time. He wants to put a lein on the house, can he still do this without any further documentation? What else should we do?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
For that amount of money, consult with an attorney. Threatening to charge more if you don't cave to lower demands is a high-pressure tactic. What's more is that you already had a written agreement. An attorney can probably help you negotiate a fair price and will certainly let you know what your rights are.
posted by Hylas at 1:25 PM on May 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

After the verbal agreement for additional work for $14,000 more, did he finish that work before you decided it was too much?
posted by Houstonian at 1:27 PM on May 21, 2011

Lawyer up ASAP. Never-ending estimate/invoice escalation by home improvement contractors is both a common occurrence and a common scam, and you're not going to know which until you have a representative as aggressive and more experienced than the roofer on your side. Consult lawyers you know in your community or your local bar association for information about which local attorneys are experienced in these matters.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:28 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, though I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice, this isn't strictly about the dollar value of the work. Mechanic's liens are a GIANT pain in the ass for real property owners in some jurisdictions, and that may be why the roofer feels he has leverage against you to demand more money.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:35 PM on May 21, 2011

"We have a signed contract that says paid in full (for the 15K we paid)"
"The contract was for 15 thousand. During the job complications arose, we set a loose verbal agreement for an additional 14K. "

Does the contract list all the work that was done or just some of it? If only some of it (IE The original work) it sounds like ethically you owe him an additional $14K.

Whether the roofer can collect is going to depend on your jurisdiction. Where is the house located? Most places if the roofer is successful getting a judgment against the property it will be very difficult to clear that without eventually paying out the remaining amount.
posted by Mitheral at 1:55 PM on May 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would insist that any further communications from the roofer to you be in writing. You want a record of his demands. Do not let him just show up and talk to you. Tell him to put it in writing, then shut the door if you must.
posted by jayder at 2:41 PM on May 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You agreed to the extra 14K. The work was done as agreed. The contractor has not escalated the fees beyond what was agreed. The failure to not scrutinize the bid was yours, and proving that the fee is not reasonable is not going to be easy, if it is even true. Pay the contractor.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 PM on May 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

So wait:

1) You had a contract for 15k

2) They completed the additional work.

3) You made a verbal agreement to pay 14k more for additional work.

4) They completed the additional work.

5) You then decided you wanted to pay them less.
posted by Spurious at 4:17 PM on May 21, 2011 [15 favorites]

Lawyer up. Blow up your lawyer's phone or get a new lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:13 PM on May 21, 2011

What else should we do?

Pay him the 14k, ethically speaking.

It's difficult to prove a verbal contract so you may well be able to weasel out of the money, but that's something you can do not what you should do.
posted by Justinian at 5:20 PM on May 21, 2011

So wait. You agreed to pay him, told him so, and then changed your mind, and you want to get out of it on a technicality? Just do the right thing and pay what you agreed.
posted by zug at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2011

There's some ... bad advice here.

Saying that the business is paying out of pocket, etc..

Tough shit, I've seen subcontractors go under because they screwed up a bid and couldn't complete the work. Not to be a cold, but it sucks for them.

Here's how construction works, and how you should be approaching it. The contractor submitted his bid and then found out he didn't do it right to the tune of 2x the original price. What you should have done is told him, too bad and he either needs to complete the work on the agreed upon price or you have someone complete it for him and then go after him or his insurance carrier.

The formal process is called a "change order," which is basically a completely new contract. It sounds like you have a verbal contract for another $14k.

First, obviously, this definitely needs a lawyer.

He can invoice you all you want, that doesn't mean you're owed that. Most likely you're owed the $14k+$15k but if it were me, and I've dealt with scummy contractors before, I'd push that verbal agreement so hard that he'd think I'm giving him a deal when I negotiate it down from $14k to $7.5k. I'd demand to see line itemed everything that came on the job site, the laborers and the time they spent on site, I'd make this all conditional on the $14k change over. I would the follow up on his supplier and make sure that the things he lists actually were bought.

Also, he may put a lien on your house. Are you trying to sell right now? No? No big deal. First, liens can only be discharged by going to court. It can be a slow process, but if you're not looking to sell, so what? And yes I've had to deal with bankrupt companies who have done all sorts of scummy things, put a lien on a property and then just disappeared. You can get the lien discharged, just document, document, document.

So in summary: Get a lawyer. Did you really agree to another $14k or did he tell you it would cost him $14k and you said okay, whatever? People are assuming you had an actual verbal contract, but I don't think this is necessarily the case. I don't think he fulfilled his duties under the first contract and is going to have to take the hit. Being realistic, this means getting him to document everything, and then agreeing to part of the cost in thinking that's what it is going to cost to go to court anyway.
posted by geoff. at 5:42 PM on May 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Perhaps you're not explaining yourself properly here, but it sounds to me like you're describing the scenario Spurious outlines. In many jurisdictions, verbal contracts are legally binding.
posted by acoutu at 7:50 PM on May 21, 2011

Is this person properly licensed? In CA, you must be to enforce (but not to file) a lien. That is the kind of question a lawyer would look into.

I would think seriously about what you're really trying to do here. If you refuse to talk to this person, they have no choice but to either file a lien or (a) eat the loss (b) lose face and (c) feel powerless as you renege on your agreement. Everyone else has already covered "pay them." Given that you are not planning to do that, I think you should at least negotiate, carefully, to some sort of face-saving compromise that they can live with.

But if you do decide to play chicken with a lawsuit, at least get a lawyer!
posted by slidell at 12:04 AM on May 22, 2011

geoff., I think youre reading the question wrong. The present contractor didn't do poor work, he has always been correcting someone else's poor work. The only thing this guy may have done is overcharge.
posted by OmieWise at 5:22 AM on May 22, 2011

No, it is the roofer's responsibility to do a site survey and exam existing conditions. Even if it is poor work, the bid should have included a contingency amount for this. Change orders shouldn't amount to more than 2-5% of the contract's total value, the fact they're 100% over and he's asking for more, says that he's either taking a hit on another project or looking to buy himself a new car. There's no reason a good roofer would go over 2x on the contract price. That said, the original contract price of $15k seems high to me, which would make sense if he's dealing with existing problems. I realize NYC is expensive, but a new roof around here would be $7-8k, I really can't see what materials they're using that would cause it to be $30k.
posted by geoff. at 9:17 AM on May 22, 2011

This question has been made anonymous so they won't be responding but they didn't tell us either material or size of the roof. The metal alone (heavy gauge steel standing seam) for the roof on my 1100 sq foot house was $4500. Flashing, boots, screws, vents, underlay and strapping added another $700. Install costs on a complicated roof could easily be twice the material. Even an install on a simple gable roof on a 2000 sq foot house could hit $15K quickly. Same for the underling issues. Structural repairs on a complicated roof can be very expensive.

TL; DR: we have no idea whether the costs are reasonable and legally it won't matter anyways. This is essentially a contract dispute of what work was commissioned for how much and whether the work was completed and paid for.
posted by Mitheral at 10:42 AM on May 22, 2011

I agree that you need to consult a lawyer. Verbal contracts are binding, so the fact that the written contract doesn't include everything you subsequently agreed to is not as significant as you seem to think it is.
posted by prefpara at 12:44 PM on May 22, 2011

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