Should I find a lawyer?
April 25, 2012 6:21 PM   Subscribe

A roofer just sent me a "CALIFORNIA PRELIMINARY 20-DAY NOTICE", I don't think the job has been completed, also I never signed anything.

I received some quotes about fixing an area of my roof deck that had been leaking. A father and son came out and said that the seam near the wall and door had to be re-sealed. The father pointed to a bubble adjacent to the door and said that was evidence of a leak there. They emailed me a quote for $275. We arranged to sign contract before the job was started.

In the quote they sent it said:




We arranged to meet sometime between 7-9am. I asked to be called 10 minutes prior to ensure I was present. They didn't call and instead used a ladder to get on the roof deck from the outside, did the job and left. I called because the bubble was not addressed, causing whenever you walked on the bubble to break the seam they just laid.

Guy came out today to check out my complaint, left and then I received the notice in email.

(In accordance with Civil Code Sections 3097 and 3098)
posted by notnathan to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your choices are a lawyer or to pay them. You don't want a lien to go onto your property over this. My guess is that given how quickly they sent the notice they aren't interested in negotiating the point. Did he actually say anything after looking at the complaint?
posted by meinvt at 6:52 PM on April 25, 2012

I don't think email counts as service.
posted by lee at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2012

Check with legal aid or a similar kind of organization in your jurisdiction. Also, see this.
In IGA Aluminum Products, Inc. v. Manufacturers Bank, the court ruled, “The statute clearly states that proper notice is a prerequisite to perfecting a mechanic's lien, and that if service of the notice is accomplished by mail, the notice must be sent by registered or certified mail.” Proof that the Notice was served by mail in accordance with the statute must be accompanied by either the return receipt of certified or registered mail, or by a copy of the record of delivery; or in the event of nondelivery, by the returned envelope itself.
posted by SMPA at 7:06 PM on April 25, 2012

The work order doesn't appear to cover the bubble itself, just sealing the part that (they say) caused the bubble.
posted by rhizome at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2012

Take pictures of the improper repair and wait for him to take you to court.

Bonus points if you get the repair done properly and show up to small claims court (it will never get to court IMHO) with the pics of the repair, the contract, and an affadavit from the REAL contractor.

In the meantime, send this clown a certified letter stating

- There was no signed contract

- He did NOT have permission to enter your property on the day he performed substandard work, and he used a ladder to access your roof deck, which amounts to Tresspassing under the law.

- In any event, the repair was not executed properly, and you have photos, etc.

I would probably use the word "extortion" in this letter, because that's what it is.

- Call your state's attorney general about this!

Come to think of it, I think this is a popular gypsy scam. You should report them first and foremost.
posted by jbenben at 7:20 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, right! Mechanic's Lien!!

Yeah. It's a scam. Someone in your attorney general's office will tell you how to proceed. It's what they are there for - just call them!
posted by jbenben at 7:23 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, AskMe goes better when you don't ascribe things to people of certain nationalities/races/whatever, can we move on and not do that in the future please?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:56 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

In terms of procedure, you might have a point. 20-day notices are covered in California Civil Code section 3097 here. Section 3097(f) appears to say service must be in person or by mail. Did they send this within 20 days of the start of the work? Did they include all the necessary verbiage?

Then again, you might not. They may not even need to serve you with a 20-day notice if they're contracting directly with you. Heck, they may not even need to be licensed to collect on a lien for $275.

In terms of the contract, it sounds like arguably they did what they said they were going to do. Resealing a juncture is different from re-roofing a section. But they don't sound like the best roofers out there. Arguably, they were negligent in not calling you and in not informing you that you should address the bubble for the seal to stick, and arguably, their negligence voids the entire value of the work.

Regardless, your best move may still be to pay them. At minimum, be very realistic about the risk and costs you are inviting. It is quite easy for them to file a lien. When they do file one, you may well be in for a headache, whether they sue you or not. At best, they'll extort you for the $275 plus maybe some arbitrary late fees and penalties. They may file suit. They may just let it go stale until you take action to get it removed. At that point, they may drag their heels until you either go to court yourself or hire a lawyer.

I had a mechanic's lien filed against me, and it was an awful experience. I couldn't get the lower-cost home insurance because I had a lien on my property. That cost me an extra $1000 right there, and the lien was already stale and unenforceable. I had to spend maybe $3500 to remove the lien. The legal fee award for that was capped at $2000, and it took me about four months to get that money from the builder. The builder probably could've avoided those fees by removing the lien shortly before the date of the hearing.

I don't even advise you to lawyer up, not over $275. My construction contract dispute attorney charged $300 / hour. One hour from an attorney to deal with this dispute would cost you more than the bill. And there's almost certainly no legal aid for this. (I called everywhere.) I guess in your shoes, I'd write it off as a lesson about being extremely careful about who you do business with (and maybe about reviewing the scope of work). It's quite cheap, as those lessons go.

The one piece of leverage you do have is the Contractors State Licensing Board. You could pay the roofer, then if you have time on your hands, file a complaint. I haven't gone all the way through the CSLB process, but I've been impressed in my experiences with them. You may not see that $275 again, but at least you'd be on offense and not defense, so you could walk away at any point you got tired of devoting money and time to the issue.
posted by slidell at 9:15 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The fact that you didn't sign anything won't keep them from liening you. One of the inspectors who came out to document the awful work of my contractor sympathized, saying the lien system is too tilted toward builders. "I could go lien that house over there right now," he said. "I could say I fixed that roof. I might not get far, but some property owners would just pay me a few hundred bucks to go away."
posted by slidell at 9:27 PM on April 25, 2012

Response by poster: hmmm. I'm still pretty confused, I'll add some more details. The form they emailed me is this one exactly . From the helpful link slidell sent, it seems like the 20 day notice is only needed for work with subcontractors? Or did they send this because they don't actually have a contract with me?

Ugh, I'm very confused. It sounds like I should either lawyer up or pay and go to the state contractors board. $275 doesn't seem to justify hiring a lawyer, but I'm so darn irritated about the whole process...
posted by notnathan at 10:50 PM on April 25, 2012

Why wouldn't contact the state attorney general before throwing in the towel?

Google "gypsy contractor scams" or just "contractor scams" to see what I mean.

The fact that you would rather fold and pay them $275 rather than call the state for free advice (vs getting a lawyer which costs money$$) tells me they picked the right person to fleece.

Don't fall for it! They entered your property without permission and made repairs you did not authorize.

Please please call your attorney general's office. You're not the only person this "contractor" has scammed - but you should do your best to make sure you are the last.

Good luck!

(PS - I'm not sure what Jessamyn's aside is about up there, but in this context, "gypsy" refers to itinerant scam artists who travel around pulling this and other familiar grifts. I have no idea if the father and son in this ask are itinerant or "gypsy" - and for sure I do not link this phenomenon to any race or nationality. This scam was familiar to me via a story I worked on many years ago concerning "gypsy contractors." Again, the scam is familiar, that's the term I learned for it. Sorry for any upset.)
posted by jbenben at 12:19 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The California Attorney General recommends that homeowners contact the Contractors State License Board if they have a complaint about a contractor, not the AG itself. You can look up their license and see if there have been any previous civil judgments against them. By the way, the CSLB has a helpful section about mechanics liens.

Maybe they sent the 20-day notice because either they or the people they take advice from normally work as a sub to a general contractor, in which instances they would have to send one.
posted by slidell at 12:54 AM on April 26, 2012

I'm not sure what Jessamyn's aside is about up there

This MetaTalk thread can be of use in learning why usage of "gypsy" is considered offensive and racist. Please note, I am saying "use of the term" is considered racist by some folks, not that we think you, or any commenter here is racist.

Start a MetaTalk thread if further discussion or commentary on this usage is warranted.

Thank you, Jessamyn!
posted by kuppajava at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do want to fight this, the more I think about it, the more the CSLB makes sense. There's a whole section describing the complaint process. If they're licensed, arbitration is mandatory. You can file a complaint against the contractor via CSLB without paying the bill. I'd still recommend paying only so that you'd be free from any threat of a lien, which is what I'm suggesting you try to avoid. And if the CSLB decides in your favor, being paid what the CSLB determines they owe wouldn't be too hard. Payment would be guaranteed by their bond, assuming they're bonded, which they have to be to have an active license, so you'd be sure to get paid back.

Any luck figuring this out with them today?
posted by slidell at 12:01 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm planning on paying them on Monday and then going to the CSLB and BBB.
posted by notnathan at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2012

The aside referred to the fact that it seemed Jessamyn had removed comments I did not see, but since my original comment was not deleted, I was confused and covering my bases!

To the OP - why pay them and then file a complaint??

This strategy doesn't make sense. By paying them, you are effectively saying the job was done correctly. You seem to think the job was not done correctly, and at any rate, the entered your property via a ladder and without your permission or supervision.

Report them first.
posted by jbenben at 2:57 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't pay because it may validate their claim.
posted by rhizome at 4:03 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

NOOOOOOO. Do not pay them. Do not. Pay. Them. They're scam artists.

1. You did not have a signed contract.
2. They trespassed on your property.
3. They were not authorized to work on your roof.
4. They may have caused damage to your roof that you're unaware of.
5. They're required to send notice via registered mail. Email doesn't cut it.

If you pay them before you find out what your options are, you are going to cause yourself more problems than you think you're solving. Have you had an actual licensed contractor out to inspect the area to make sure that they didn't cause more damage?

If they damaged your roof, paying them will make it harder to collect money from them if you have to file a suit in small claims court. Paying them will also legitimize their lien filing. Based on their already shady behavior, they may even claim that they didn't receive the money and still attempt to file a lien against your home. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH THEM ANY FURTHER. Report, report, report.
posted by i feel possessed at 9:42 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

i feel possessed covered it in so many ways, I almost feel guilty returning to this thread.

OP, watching what happens here in this thread, with the updates you've made, is kinda like watching a slow car crash.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE follow the good advice to report them BEFORE paying.

And I disagree slightly with the posters above who recommended that you contact the Contractors State License Board instead of the State Attorney General's Office.

The CSLB is for disputes, what you have is a SCAM.

Scams are reported to the AG's office, full stop. They'll tell you if you need to go to the CSLB, too.

OP - you are being SCAMMED, this is NOT a dispute.

There is a difference. Go ahead and access the resources the law provides you. No lawyer or extra $$ required.
posted by jbenben at 10:25 PM on April 27, 2012

6. Permit

It occurred to me just now that in my locale, you need a permit for roof work, even repairs. If that's true in your area, do you really think it's likely that these scam artists filed for a permit, considering that they didn't even have a signed contract authorizing to perform the work?

This could cause you even further headaches if you get fined because of work performed without a permit. You may need to recover the cost of any fines and extra repairs required to bring it up to code that go beyond the original repair costs (from work done by a new, reliable contractor whose license you'll have checked out with CSLB, etc. and so on).

Again, your ability to recover these kinds of costs could be damaged by paying these scam artists. It may appear that you were satisfied with the work and even if you didn't sign a contract, they may argue that you were signifying the completion of a verbal contract by rendering payment for services.

Call your attorney general. Report them. Google the scam artists' names, read reviews. Other people may have dealt with this same pair and you might be able to follow their lead.

posted by i feel possessed at 10:23 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Google, why do you make my brain hurt?   |   Huff Post comments no longer showing on my iPad. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.