Plumber is overcharging - what to do?
January 23, 2020 5:17 AM   Subscribe

The plumber came yesterday cause my kitchen faucet stopped working. He took a look and said it needed to be replaced. I agreed, and sent him downstairs to the landlord to discuss cost.

Now the landlord is an old lady in her 80s, and she might be a bit gullible. Anyway, he said to her that he would charge $700, and she paid $400 in advance. Now I'm checking how much it is to change a faucet in my area, and it's more like $250-$300, faucet included.

I like my landlord and I don't want her to be fooled. The plumber was referred by a friend, so I initially trusted him. He is going to come in one hour to do the job, and I don't know what to do.

Ideally, I would like to have a conversation where he agrees to get the $400 and nothing more, but how to do that allowing him to save face?

Also, I wouldn't mind firing him, but that seems impossible with the advance.

Communication with the landlord is super difficult, she doesn't speak English, I don't speak French. We are in Quebec, Canada.
posted by TheGoodBlood to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see a good way for you to intervene here. This is on your landlady. All you need out of this exchange is a kitchen sink that works. Aside from checking that the plumber does a decent job, I'd stay right out of it.
posted by rd45 at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Not having to worry about things like this is one of the very, very few benefits of renting.
posted by Ted Maul at 5:34 AM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I know letting go is an option! I was wondering about other options, in case anyone has ideas.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 5:41 AM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

In an hour, with a language barrier, and a deposit larger than the regular price of the job already given? There's not really anything you could practically do here. I totally understand feeling bad about seeing a nice person being taken advantage of, but there's no immediate workable or appropriate solution, because you'd be interjecting yourself into a transaction that you're not really actually involved in. You're using the faucet, but it's not your plumbing or your building.

Also, I wouldn't mind firing him, but that seems impossible with the advance.

I mean, you can't fire him - you didn't actually hire him, your landlord did.

If you have a generally good relationship with your landlord and can overcome the language barrier you could at some future date - when there isn't a looming maintenance emergency - volunteer to help find and vet maintenance people and prices, and maybe mention this incident as your motivation for doing so; you find the workers and negotiate prices, and then coordinate with her about having a check available at the right time.

This is more likely to be received as "nice tenant helping me out" rather than "tenant is being a pain in the ass sticking their nose into things that don't concern them in the middle of an emergency."
posted by soundguy99 at 5:52 AM on January 23, 2020

It’s also possible that this isn’t just a simple swap of a faucet- maybe the soldered on valves are busted, maybe everything is a weird size and he has to get an annoyingly expensive faucet, who knows. There are so many ways that a “simple” plumbing job can go sideways.
posted by rockindata at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Do you know what needs replacing? - It's possible it's not just the faucet, but maybe some related pipework?

What to do? - See if you can get an itemized invoice. If necessary, don't hire him again, and warn other people.
posted by carter at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2020

You might tell your landlord she’s being overcharged and ask whether she wants your help. If that’s too difficult due to language barrier then i think you’re stuck. If she does want help, the only way i can see to allow the plumber to save face is to suggest that he must be planning to install a much fancier faucet than you need, and you’d feel terrible for costing your nice old landlady so much when a (insert well-reviewed $150 faucet) would be perfectly fine.

I’m still angry at a plumber who added $60 dollars to my parents’ bill for a 3-minute task performed while he was already present doing other work, several years ago. I feel bad because I had asked him to do the task because i knew it was simple and figured it could only cost a few bucks. I feel your pain, but you’re in a tough spot here
posted by jon1270 at 6:02 AM on January 23, 2020

Response by poster: I think I wasn't clear - I found the plumber. Let's assume that I know for a fact he's overcharging. This is not an emergency.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 6:23 AM on January 23, 2020

If you can't communicate face-to-face with your landlord, phone her with a telephone interpretation service. Google Quebec telephone interpreter.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:33 AM on January 23, 2020

Best answer: Good for you trying to help keep an old woman from being robbed. I’m baffled by the number of people who say it’s not your problem. I think people should, when possible, try to look out for each other.

It is possible there’s a reason it costs so much. You could ask him nicely. “My understanding is that faucet replacement generally costs xxxx. I assume there’s a special problem with this one. Could you explain it to me?” (I’m a cis female who finds things with tradesmen are easier if I play dumb. YMMV.)

If you’re not satisfied with the answer, you could then say he was recommended to you and you’d hope to recommend him in the future, but you’re concerned about how much he charges.

Good luck.
posted by FencingGal at 6:40 AM on January 23, 2020 [27 favorites]

No sure the plumper is overcharging. I search of a Lowes store in Quebec shows that a mid-range faucet cost about $200 Canadian. If there is other work being done like replacing the shutoff valves, $700 might be about right. A quick conversion of Canadian to U.S. show the work would be $531 U.S. which does not sound crazy to me.
posted by tman99 at 6:41 AM on January 23, 2020

Whoops. Didn’t see you know he’s overcharging.

You could try being more confrontational. “This should only cost xxxxx. Why are you charging yyyyy?”

Also, the US has organizations meant to protect seniors from getting ripped off. Is there a Canadian equivalent?
posted by FencingGal at 6:45 AM on January 23, 2020

I can help you here. This is a tough tactic to pull off if you’re not confident, though.

When he comes, lean on your personal connection, say you were referred and you’d be happy to refer him to others. Then when it’s done quickly, say “oh, that was faster than you expected! I’m glad, I thought it was going to be expensive based on what [landlady] told me. But it looks like she’s already paid enough, right? I’m glad she won’t need to pay more. I try to look out for her, you know. So I’m so glad I found someone honest. She’s already paid, right? $400 is a lot. I’m glad that’s all she’ll have to pay.”

Etc. etc. It’s a combination of guilt tripping, emphasizing the upside for him of moving on, and implying that you’ll get involved on her behalf.

This is a high pressure tactic and he’ll know what you’re doing. It’s not graceful at all. You have to be pushy until he agrees that she’s already paid. I personally don’t know if I’d be able to pull it off unless I was more confident that it was a rip-off, and I am not sure you’re confident enough in that.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:47 AM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just had another thought the $700 likely includes the cost of the first trip. How much time was spent troubleshooting the issue? The $400 was to cover the first trip plus the parts for the repair.
posted by tman99 at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2020

Response by poster: "How much time was spent troubleshooting the issue?"
5 minutes.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2020

Response by poster: I just went to the Canadian Tire website, picked a faucet similar to mine delivered at my place, added service (remove old faucet, install new) and the total with taxes is $186.23. Lesson learned I guess. The dude is here, I'll see how it goes. I'm still not sure about what to do.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2020

Best answer: If you know that your landlord is a maybe gullible old lady in her 80s, a good time to intervene would have been here: "I agreed, and sent him downstairs to the landlord to discuss cost."

You could have said instead, "What exactly do you think is wrong, and how much do you think it is going to cost?" thus establishing your interest and concern in the matter.

By handling the situation in your way, you have begun walking a path toward a hands-off "not my problem" approach. This is a completely reasonable thing to do, but it is going to be pretty difficult to turn that boat around. Why are you trying to stick your nose in now, after you've established that the price of the fix wasn't something that concerned you? I think that you ought to let your landlord take the loss on this one, and in the future, find ways to signal to tradesmen that if they're thinking of running a con, they're going to have to con you as well.
posted by Kwine at 7:33 AM on January 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

If you're really, really sure he's ripping her off (which it certainly sounds like), I'd look into documenting and reporting to whatever your version of the Attorney General is, or perhaps BBB.

Ask for a receipt for your records as the tenant, itemizing parts and labor. Make sure it matches up. Maybe ask for a copy of the receipt for the actual faucet. If it's wildly off, he may back down on his own.

My grandma was taken advantage of by a contractor who, it turned out, was using FAKE video to show blocked pipes, and ended up getting an unnecessary $20K repair. The state attorney general is now gathering evidence to prosecute the contractor for fraud, so while it's unknown if she'll get any money back, at least other vulnerable people are protected.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:36 AM on January 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot to add! She called and asked us if we thought if the price was OK. That's when I started researching it, having before being myself gullible/anxious about this kind of stuff, assuming the plumber was honest, and thinking the landlord was capable in that situation. I won't post in this thread anymore! Sorry for the many updates.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2020

If it’s not too late, I would go with a feint that gives him an out: “Hey, I just wanted to check something because my landlady has a language barrier and is sometimes confused. She said the cost of the repair is $700, but when I checked this with other plumbers and at the store, it’s only supposed to cost $200. Friend had so many good things to say about you that I know you’re not padding the price, so what am I missing here? Was Landlady just confused?”
posted by sallybrown at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

I won't post in this thread anymore!

I kind of want to know what happened! Will you post once more when all is resolved and let us know what you did and how it turned out?
posted by aka burlap at 9:12 AM on January 23, 2020 [15 favorites]

It's entirely possible that it's the case, but for future reference nothing here makes it totally clear that anyone's ripped off. The price seems high, but we can't actually assume you know for a fact he's overcharging based on the information provided.

Plumbing is expensive, plumbers often bill for travel time, and it is not always obvious to a casual observer what a real repair entails. Automated corporate installation estimates aren't reliable. The time it takes to assess a plumbing problem doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the expense of solving it.

It sounds like an easy/inexpensive repair, but without a breakdown I'd be a little reluctant to assert a rip-off.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:54 AM on January 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh OK I can give an update. Had to run to work after the install yesterday.

So, the plumber came and installed the faucet in less than one hour. The following dialogue ensued:

"So, what's the faucet brand? I see, Bélanger! How much is it?" "It's $120. Those are special ones for professionals, you can't get those at a store." "And how much do you charge for the hour?" "I charge $100/hour." "I see, so did you have to install any other parts?" "Yeah, I changed the two valves. Those are very expensive." "How much are the valves?" "They're $50 each." Pause. "So this comes to around $400." (I suck at adding in my head - it's $350.) "Yeah, but the lady already agreed on that price, so..." "I see." I said my landlord might need other jobs, in my apartment even, would he consider a discount so she would hire him again? No way.

The faucet is this model. The valves are these. ($84 + $13 for 2, with taxes, for future ref)

When he went downstairs to see the landlord, I was putting salt on my stairs so I saw her opening the door. She had unusually put some make-up, and was very smiley (she is always smiley).

Later in the evening she called my girlfriend and asked if she could go downstairs. She had a bag of pastries for us as as a thank you for finding such a nice man.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 10:47 AM on January 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

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