How do I get my contractor to finish the renovation job I paid him for?
June 17, 2014 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Almost three months ago, I hired a friend of mine to do about $18k worth of renovations to my condo, $4k of which is labour. However, I made the mistake of paying him in advance, and after I paid the last instalment, he started making excuses for why he couldn't arrive on the site to finish the work (it's about 90% done). The project, originally estimated at two or three weeks, is now two months behind schedule.

The biggest problem is that he's busy with other jobs, which he's prioritizing above mine, apparently because he hasn't been paid for them yet. He keeps telling me that he'll come by when it rains or grout's drying at his other job, but then he doesn't. I've expressed my displeasure about being given low priority, but it isn't motivating him to complete the work. I think he would eventually finish the job, but it's the busy season right now and that could be months from now. I wanted it done two months ago.

I don't care about preserving the friendship, and he isn't acting like he does. I just want the job to be finished, without paying either him or somebody else more money, and without compromising the quality of the work.

As a possible solution, I've thought of leaving a negative review for him on HomeStars (a popular site here in Toronto), or at least threatening to, and updating the review once the job is complete. But I don't want this action to damage any remaining goodwill that could possibly cause him to eventually finish the job.

I don't want to sue him, because it would ensure that the work never gets done and not actually ensure that I will get any of my money back. That's why I filed this under "human relations."

What should I do?
posted by xekul to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If he is licensed you can call the city or county and complain. Or at least threaten to. Or threaten to leave a bad review. If he cares at all this should get him moving. If he is oblivious to the threat then you will never get any leverage. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.
posted by Gungho at 6:56 AM on June 17, 2014

You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do.

What you can do is ask him to return all the materials you've paid for and the remainder of what he charged you for labor. If he's a stand up guy, he'll do that. If he's not, then the only thing left to you is suing him.

I'd approach it thusly, "Gregg, it seems that now that summer is here, you're really busy with these other jobs. I really want to make it work, but I need to have the project completed by July 15. I'm willing to work with you on that, but I need an assurance in writing that it's going to happen, because it's been two months since we've seen you here. I'm catching hell from Pat over the fact that the bathroom is still out of service. Tell you what, I don't want to put you in a bad spot, and I'm sure you don't want to dick me around either. If this isn't going to work for you, how about I pay you for the materials, and your labor so far. Which one works for you?"

In the future, when dealing with trades-people, when you draw up the contract, be sure to insist on receipts for materials, a time frame by which certain things get done, and a drop-dead date for when the project will be completed. In the US you can insert the phrase 'time is of the essense' into the contract, and it has a sprecific legal meaning that if the project isn't complete by that time, consequences will ensue. To that point, build in consequences for missing project milestones. Such as, 'If entire project is not complete, to customer's satisfaction by X, then 1/3 the labor cost shall be forefeit. If the project is not complete to customer's satisfaction by X + 2 weeks, 2/3 the labor cost shall be forfeit." You get the idea.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:59 AM on June 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

Can you find out where he's working now and warn that homeowner about what happened to you? If it doesn't apply any leverage, perhaps it will at least prevent the problem from happening again.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:01 AM on June 17, 2014

The contractor is busy. He has been paid. If he is 90% complete, then it should not take but a few days more work to complete. How about suggesting he come on successive Sundays until he finishes?
posted by 724A at 7:06 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, before a chorus of "sue his ass in small claims court" answers, I want to ask you this question: did he give you a discount for his services because he was your friend.

I think if he gave you the courtesy of a discount, then you need to cut him a little slack (though now that slack is running/run out in my brain).

Reach out to him again, tell him you've giving him until XX/XX/14 to finish the job and, if it's not done, you'll refer it to your lawyer. Sometimes you don't even need to sue someone to get them to move. Sometimes it's enough to threaten legal action.
posted by inturnaround at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think if he gave you the courtesy of a discount, then you need to cut him a little slack

If he couldn't do the work for the price he quoted in a reasonable time frame, that's his problem, not the OP's.

I'm not sure I'd trust him to finish it with any sort of quality at this point, especially if you start threatening lawyers. I'd make a few more collegial attempts to get him to finish up, but the point at which you start talking about lawyers is when you should probably be trying to get your money back to have the job finished by someone else.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:27 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What is left to do? And how much of an inconvenience is it to you? I ask because this will impact (in his mind) how much of a priority it is. If it's just a final coat of paint, then the human tendency is to stall and do other things. Also I'm pretty impressed that he did $4k of work in 2-3 weeks, to be honest.

I've had friends do work on my place (in the GTA) and +1-2 month was pretty typical, though he did eventually come around to finishing. There's crazy amounts of work to be had for people in that field. (My friend worked on my place every Sunday for months!)

I think he would eventually finish the job, but it's the busy season right now and that could be months from now. I wanted it done two months ago.

This is key: you still have trust/faith that he hasn't completely screwed you out of the finished work. For this reason I personally wouldn't jump to nasty reviews or suing his ass or threatening to sue. There's no point and it won't get you what you want. (And how do you know this guy? unfortunately if you threaten to sue you'll get looked funny at for turning it nasty I think)

I would call him up (or do you know his wife?) and say: lookit, I know it's a small job but it is really bothering me and impacting my ability to do XYZ at home. I look at it every day, and it's making me curse your name a little. How can we get this done quicker? I feel like I chump because I paid you in advance and I just need it done. Can you do me a solid? How about Sundays for 4h until it's done?

Like someone said, if you got a 'friendship deal' on the pricing then putting up with some delay is part of that deal, I think.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:29 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The mistake was paying him in full upfront, which it sounds like you know. I do a lot of commercial contracting work. Most of my customers make a final payment at completion, but also hold a 10% retainage fee for 60 days, just so they can get us back for any punch out final things after the job is completed. Customers like Disney, Walmart, and Marriott do this regularly.

Chalk this up as a learning experience, never pay a contractor everything up front.

If all you do is argue with him about finishing, it can go on forever. You need to take a substantive step to resolve.

Your best bet is to tell him (in writing): You have x number of days to complete this work. After that point, I will be hiring Company A to complete your work. After I pay company A, I will then sue you in small claims to recover the payments made to company A for work that I already paid you to do.

Bringing in a new company means you will have to lay-out money, and you are not guaranteed to collect it back in court. However, it will get it done fast.

Taking that stance might also light a fire under his butt to get it done. You might see if you could get a free estimate from someone to finish. Then give him the estimate and your timeframe / lawsuit ultimatum.

Also, just to note, what I am suggesting is fairly common in construction. I have been company A several times, brought into a half completed job to finish the work, while the two original parties take the original contract to court.

Finally, I would also say - this is yet another reason you should have gotten a building permit. I assume that you did this kitchen re-model unpermitted, because a contractor can not keep open permit hanging out there for long. Open permits impact his ability to pull other permits. I am guessing that the contractor told you that you do not need a permit, and probably told you that it is for your benefit to not pull permits. Permits are for the benefit of the customer, and not pulling a permit forces a contractor to do things correctly and in a timely fashion.
posted by Flood at 7:30 AM on June 17, 2014 [26 favorites]

Since he is a friend, and presumably would like to continue getting work from friends, how about posting this same question to Facebook (if he has Facebook) so people know there is a problem with his timeliness and hopefully he will try to rescue his reputation. Or, have a mutual friend call him up on the pretense of getting work done by him, mention to him that they are aware you got work done and tell him they will contact you in the next couple of days to make sure you were happy with the completed job before hiring him.
posted by saucysault at 7:33 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work for a contractor. Never, ever pay a contractor in advance. Asking for an advance just screams "We have no cash flow" and that is never a good sign. He's probably broke as a joke and maxed out on credit. And like Flood said above, a 10 percent holdback is standard in the industry until the job is done. Not lecturing here as I'm sure you have learned your lesson but to drive the point home for future readers of this thread. These are almost always the same kind of people who don't pay their worker's comp premiums and cut all kinds of corners. And get the rest of us labeled as shysters.

Call him up and be firm. Tell him "I am really pissed off and if this work isn't completed by July X, I will have no choice but to escalate things." You can keep it vague and keep him wondering or you can be more specific. I knew someone in a similar situation recently and they phrased it as "My lawyer is advising that..." At the mention of the word "lawyer" the guilty party showed up on site within a couple of hours and did what was required.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses! Here are my comments/answers:

- Gungho: He isn't licensed, but I'm thinking that the threat of a bad review might be motivating.
- Ruthless Bunny: I can get my materials back, but I don't think I would be able to get enough of a refund to hire somebody else to do the job. I might be able to get something. For the future, I've definitely learned to draw up a written contract with deadline clauses.
- JoeZydeco: I have no idea where he's working now. Leaving him a bad review online is the closest I can get to warning other homeowners.
- 724A: He usually works on weekends, although I find it hard to believe he doesn't have any time for me at all.
- inturnaround: He didn't give me a discount. His quote was actually a little higher than the other quote I got, but I hired him because he had done quality work for me in the past.
- St. Peepsburg: There's a bit of painting, transitions for the flooring, plinths for the cabinets and hanging a large mirror. It doesn't inconvenience me very much, but my family's visiting me in a month and they want to see my new condo. I like that script. It's honest and actually sounds like something I would say.
- Flood: If it ever reaches the point where I have to pay somebody else to complete the job, I might as well sue him for the cost. But I'm hoping it doesn't reach that point.
- saucysault: He doesn't use Facebook. I have a mutual friend who'd be up for that kind of ruse, but it could backfire if the contractor in question sees through it.
- futureisunwritten: He does, in fact, have no cash flow. I wanted to be understanding and help him out, but of course it got me burned. I'm going to use a legal threat as a last resort.
posted by xekul at 8:02 AM on June 17, 2014

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