Let sleeping dogs lie?
August 29, 2019 11:27 PM   Subscribe

A contractor did work for me in May. I forgot to pay. They haven't asked. Later I learned the work was done so poorly that I need another company to redo all the work. I don't plan to pay. Do I tell them?

My wife hired a licensed asbestos abatement company to scrape off our popcorn ceiling in May. It looked... not great? But neither of us had any idea what it was supposed to look like, and the people were nice... anyway, she forgot her checkbook on the final day, so they emailed us a bill, and somehow neither of us got around to paying it. Oh, and all arrangements were made by phone and text message -- she never actually signed a contract. (or if she did, we don't have a copy) :-O

Flash forward to the end of July, we're gearing up for a big remodel, and due to a scare (that thankfully turned out to be incorrect!) we brought in more asbestos experts to look at our walls. Each one that came by looked up and said "what the hell happened to your ceiling?" -- they point out loose popcorn all over the place, sparkles still clearly visible, etc. One said the first company needed to come back with full gear, set up containment, and finish the job correctly. So I call the first company back, and they show up with a shop vac(!), and tell me that all those things that were pointed out were not really important. I sent them off without letting them touch anything further because of the cognitive dissonance.

I then hired a testing company to do an independent inspection. They found, lo and behold, the popcorn texture was still present in all their samples. And they were horrified when I asked if a shop vac was sufficient to abate it. Basically, nobody can touch that ceiling unless they set up proper containment, and we have skylights and recessed lighting going in.... They put me in touch with the gov't office so I could file a formal complaint, and a gov't worker came by for another inspection, and that report is pending. Finally, I hired another company to re-abate the ceiling, and they're coming next week.

YANAL but I did speak with one, who was a little fighty, and he advised that even with no contract I could write a breach of contract letter and demand that THEY pay ME for any difference in what they charged me and what it ends up costing to actually abate the ceiling, plus the cost of the inspection, so around $550.

I'm really not interested in that. Really, I just want this whole thing to go away. I don't intend to pay. And they haven't sent a bill since May or otherwise tried to collect.

So my question is: do I need to proactively send them a letter to tell them I'm not paying, and why? Or could I just... do nothing? I could just wait and see if they send another bill, and only then tell them to climb a tree. I'm worried that going out of my way to announce that I'm not paying could backfire in some way that I can't predict. Heck, maybe they're so disorganized they forgot about it, and my letter makes them realize that I never paid, and then they try to take me to court. Is there any downside to doing nothing?
posted by StockingMarionette to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Yes, just do nothing unless you hear from them again. If they come after you, you've documented the heck out of things and could try to get that $550 then.

You could potentially inform them of their failings and that you've filed a complaint and would like $550. But that's picking a fight, and a lot of people in their shoes would then fight back. They'd realize that not continuing to bill you was kind of an admission of error. So I wouldn't.

But if they persist in trying to collect, I'd have a direct conversation with them about how prepared you are to make them pay you. Don't ignore them, lest they put a lien on your property. Those are easy for them to put on and a hassle to get off.
posted by slidell at 12:06 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

...and what it ends up costing to actually abate the ceiling...

There's some chance they'll follow up or put a lien on your house (something that happens in my state when you don't pay contractors), but it sounds like they're going to be in deep trouble with regulators, so maybe they want this to just go away as much as you do.

Did the testing company only test the remaining popcorn ceiling, or did they check if company #1's inadequate containment has resulted in asbestos fibers in your air and on your surfaces? I wouldn't be surprised if cleaning up the mess the other company made runs into the thousands.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:21 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you need a license to be an asbestos remediator? Because it sounds like they had some seriously unqualified people who didn't even know the right answer there.

Oh, also, what did they do with the asbestos waste they generated? There are rules for that.
posted by ctmf at 12:34 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is definitely a "consult a lawyer" situation.

My non-lawyer impulse would be to send them a letter stating that you're not going to pay, and that they caused damage to the home in the amount of $550 above what their bill was, and that you're still investigating whether there is more damage. That way, if they do take some kind of legal action to try to force you to pay, you have a record of explaining why you're not.

You don't necessarily demand payment for the $550, but you leave it open that you could. (Let them sweat over whether or not you're going to try to get money out of them.) You might mention, "I will send you a full bill for the damages when we're done assessing the situation;" that gives you time to decide. If it comes out to just $550, you might not bother; if it turns out you need to replace half the furniture in your house, you might decide to sue them after all.

...document EVERYTHING. Make a list of every phone call and consultation you can remember, and keep every shred of email or paper attached to those discussions. Make a timeline describing when you hired them, what they did, and the condition of the house after. Take photos now if you didn't then. If it does wind up going to court, courts love a detailed timeline that helps them figure out what happened.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:14 AM on August 30, 2019

By not paying the contractor you are deep into lien territory. You need solid advice on how to nullify any chance of the contractor going that direction or you may find yourself talking to the Authorities.

I just want this whole thing to go away

If you ignore it the possibility of a lien will be hovering over your head for as long as you own your house. The lawyer you talked to was probably right about coming out fighting, but maybe get a second opinion on that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, I would be worried about your health. Isn't asbestos dangerous when it's disturbed?
posted by pinochiette at 1:56 PM on August 30, 2019

If you ignore it the possibility of a lien will be hovering over your head for as long as you own your house.
If there's no contract is it even possible for a contractor to get a lien on a house?
posted by StockingMarionette at 3:24 PM on August 30, 2019

If the contractor tries to get a lien, you go to the court hearing, state your case, show pictures, dates, times, etc. It takes a fair bit of time and trouble to take someone to court; your slacker contractor is unlikely to do this.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 PM on August 30, 2019

To answer my own question (and maybe future web searchers'), they had 90 days from the date they did work to file a lien.

"Every person claiming a lien under RCW 60.04.021 shall file for recording, in the county where the subject property is located, a notice of claim of lien not later than ninety days after the person has ceased to furnish labor, professional services, materials, or equipment or the last date on which employee benefit contributions were due." [source]

Presumably I would have heard about this by now had they attempted to take out a lien.

I did finally get a hold of a lawyer and he basically said that it was to come up with a strong argument in either direction. Since liens are out, that leaves a potential suit, and it sounds like that's just as likely if I say something now as if I wait until they discover the missing payment.

G'night, doggie, sweet dreams.
posted by StockingMarionette at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2019

(edit window died... "... it was hard to come up with a strong argument...")
posted by StockingMarionette at 9:29 AM on August 31, 2019

They brought a shop vac to clean up asbestos. You owe them nothing.

Also, they have to send a demand letter before any legal action.
posted by hypnogogue at 10:34 PM on August 31, 2019

If you ignore it the possibility of a lien will be hovering over your head for as long as you own your house.

I see that you've already checked your local laws, which appear to be similar to ours where this is time limited.

I would be surprised if they filed suit -- a lien is much easier, and if they didn't manage that...
posted by slidell at 12:33 AM on September 4, 2019

I just ran across a horrifying article in the local newspaper of a town I am visiting. Please get your home tested; The TL;DR is that a company did a shitty job of scraping popcorn ceilings at an apartment complex, and now the residents cannot recover their personal property partly because much of it is too contaminated to be safe.

The topper was a sample collected from the floor of the entryway of Unit 304, where 2,768,000 asbestos fibers were counted in a square millimeter of sample. In Colorado, the maximum allowable asbestos level for airborne fiber concentration is 70 fibers per square millimeter in test samples. Apologies because this does not answer your question; like pinochiette above, I am worried about your health. Please take care!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:31 PM on September 16, 2019

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