Two plans, only one used - what to do?
March 30, 2020 6:58 AM   Subscribe

During a project last year, I was notified by our permitting office that I needed an specialist to do permit plan drawings for the work I was undertaking. I found a specialist 1 on the internet. The drawings they produced repeatedly failed to get me my permits, and also caused other problems - and when questioned, they were unpleasant and rude. I eventually called specialist 2 who got me what I needed. Now specialist 1 is asking what happened with their work and (presumably) looking to get paid. What do I tell them?

I asked for someone to give me what I needed to acquire my permits as I was anxious to move forward.

Specialist 1:
- Specialist 1 never visited the site, despite me asking repeatedly when they were able to come and visit to do the measurements. They said they didn't need to do it and could draw based off my pictures and hand sketches.
- Their plans were significantly overbuilt - which would have caused a 1) significant increase in price from my contractor and 2) a mandatory delay for neighbor notification
- Needed repeated calls and emails to get me the ever changing list of things the permitting office was asking for with each visit. After two revisions, I asked that they bill me for their time (but before I tried to acquire my permits). They never did.
- When my contractor wrote an email to ask about the plans to clarify why they were being asked to do certain things, the specialist replied brusquely and told him to read the plans again. The specialist also threatened to charge me more if he had to answer any questions from the contractor.
- After a second failed attempt to get my permits with the the drawings, I lamented about my situation to a neighbor who recommended Specialist 2. I decided was in over my head and needed someone to handle this end to end.

Specialist 2:
Came, assessed the site, independently decided on a plan that didn't require any sort of work on the party walls, worked to answer the questions for my contractor, then went and got all the permits I needed.

Now the work is finished, but Specialist 1 has come back around asking what happened with their plans and whether I was able to acquire permits with it. I never told them I was going with specialist 2 or closed things out. What do I do?
The plans they provided never got me what I needed, so I'm not sure what's right in terms of compensation (if anything at all) or even what to tell them what's happened since.
posted by Karaage to Work & Money (18 answers total)
What do I tell them?

Why bother telling them anything? They didn't actually do the work you needed done, and haven't sent you a bill.
posted by mhoye at 7:03 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah I don’t consider ghosting professionally acceptable conduct. . . But you didn’t start it here. It is pretty clear this person isn’t following up out of any interest in the status of your project but entirely to get paid.

I don’t know what type of agreement you entered into which would speak to what you might or might not owe this person who didn’t do what you needed and didn’t seem to care about that, but I’d say from an ethical perspective you don’t owe them another thought until they make a claim “you owe me for my time up to x date (or some other agreeable rationale)”
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:08 AM on March 30, 2020

Did you sign any kind of contract with Specialist 1? If not, definitely do that in the future to avoid confusion like this.

Tell Specialist 1 you will not be continuing to work with them, and ask them to bill you for their time so far. Pay the bill. Never call them again.
posted by mekily at 7:10 AM on March 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

What does the contract you have with S1 say? That you pay on delivery of x,y,z, pieces of work? Or for time spent? Or on achievement of permits? Or something else? That would seem to be where the answer lies.
posted by penguin pie at 7:10 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

The only thing that matters are the term of whatever you signed.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:16 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nothing was signed. The discussion on the work was on the phone, he'd get me what I needed to acquire the permits in a few weeks and it would cost a couple hundred dollars. Everything else, which was mainly status check ins and sending of the plans, was over email.
posted by Karaage at 7:23 AM on March 30, 2020

You could just say "no. " with nothing else.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:34 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pay him (within reason) for time spent and tell him you decided to go with a Specialist whose ideas more closely matched your own.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would ask for a letter from the planning office that states the plans were prepared by XX were submitted twice and both times rejected due to deficiencies in the plans and that nothing was permitted using the plans prepared by XX. Send that off and don’t even mention payment.
posted by saucysault at 7:42 AM on March 30, 2020 [13 favorites]

If you're talking about an amount you can afford to pay without too much trouble, I would ask S1 to send you a bill. Then it's up to you as to whether or not you want to say anything about S1's work being unsatisfactory and having moved forward successfully with S2. Not sure you would get anything out of bringing it up unless you feel like S1 is over-billing to an extent you are uncomfortable paying, at which point the poor quality of the work and lack of success could come up in connection with negotiating the price down. Otherwise just pay the bill and wash your hands of S1.
posted by slkinsey at 8:20 AM on March 30, 2020

Best answer: I would start by telling S1 that no, you were not able to acquire a permit with his plans, in fact they were rejected twice so you had to go and hire someone else who was able to do what was needed the first time.

I would not discuss any payment without letting S1 know that they work that was done was unsatisfactory and unusable (in polite, business-like way)
posted by metahawk at 8:39 AM on March 30, 2020 [13 favorites]

If you are having trouble making ends meet right now, you should not pay them anything. They did not do their job and you can't afford it.

However if you feel you have money to spare, and are worried about this dragging on and causing more anxiety and drama, you should look for some form of closure which involves payment. Tell them their plans were not able to get the permit approved and ask them to send you a bill for their time. I wouldn't mention contractor 2, just say the process ended in failure and you wish to end the relationship. I would then pay the bill without drama and move on.

Both prioritizing money and lowering anxiety are morally justifiable here, pick the one you feel best about.
posted by JZig at 8:44 AM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I want to chime back in and strongly disagree with those suggesting not to pay Specialist 1. It's not reasonable or ethical to refuse payment for work that was done, unless there was some kind of gross misconduct or fraud -- which it doesn't sound like was the case; Specialist 1 is just bad at their job. If you can't afford to pay right now, work out a payment plan.

Obviously since there was no contract signed, arriving at the appropriate amount to pay Specialist 1 might be difficult. I suggest asking them to bill you and paying that amount if it seems reasonable; if it seems vastly inflated to you, maybe offer a counter-proposal based on the typical hourly rate for this type of work (do some research).

I say this as someone who has many friends who work as freelancers. If it were acceptable to refuse payment because you weren't happy with the work, anyone could refuse payment based on arbitrary standards and freelancing would be even more precarious than it already is. If there's a contract that specifies payment is contingent on the work meeting certain objective standards that are spelled out in the contract, that's one thing. But in the case of no contract? Pay for the hours completed. Leave a (levelheaded, objective) bad review on whatever platform if you feel obligated. Don't work with this person again, and that's the end of it. Sign a contract next time so both sides are clear on the payment and expectations.
posted by mekily at 9:12 AM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm a freelancer in a completely different business. If I had done work that I recognized was completely unfit for purpose, I would not bill for it (and there have been a few times in my career when I did not), but if I had a disagreement with a client about the quality of my work (and that's happened a few times too), I would expect them to pay for it. Especially because Specialist 1 gave you a verbal commitment that the drawings would suffice for getting a permit and they didn't, it sounds like this case falls into the first category, but Specialist 1 might disagree.
posted by adamrice at 9:34 AM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: For those pointing out that I should pay, could you provide more clarity around your thinking on this?

Normally I am in this camp of compensating people for their labor but it feels odd to pay more than a nominal fee for drawings were not fit for the purpose I asked for. It took me two separate visits and easily 6+ wasted hours at the permit office to have the drawings rejected.

This isn't a matter of whether I was happy or not with the work - the drawings were not accepted by the permit office and they needed significant other documents and corrections to the drawing that would have required additional follow ups on my part despite Specialist 1s assurance that all I needed was their drawing. It feels like misrepresentation to me.
posted by Karaage at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2020

> After two revisions, I asked that they bill me for their time (but before I tried to acquire my permits). They never did.

At this point, I'd recommend a response along the lines of (though perhaps more nuanced than):
“Unfortunately, the drawings that you provided were not accepted by the permit office. For the sake of expediency, I hired another contractor to complete the project. Per my email on [DATE], please bill me for the time spent producing the drawings. The rate that you quoted was [RATE], and I am willing to honor that verbal agreement. However, as the drawings were not actually usable, I would greatly appreciate any discount that you see fit to extend.”
posted by D.Billy at 12:59 PM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

For those pointing out that I should pay, could you provide more clarity around your thinking on this?

It feels a bit like you're asking for ethical permission to not pay S1.

S1 did the agreed-to work, it just wasn't quite the work you wanted. Since the agreed-to work was done, you should pay the agreed-to amount for that work. Upthread you wrote that the amount specified by S1 was "a couple hundred dollars." Somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred dollars seems like a reasonable amount to pay even for work you didn't like. Think about it this way: If you get a haircut and the price of a haircut is 30 bucks, you still pay 30 bucks whether you like the haircut or not.

Right now, a major question is whether S1 would want to be paid given the outcomes and, if so, how much S1 wants to be paid. You need to find this out. You could tell S1 that the drawings were not accepted by the permit office and you ended up having to hire a different specialist whose drawings were accepted, and then ask S1 to send you a bill. This would lead to three possible outcomes: (a) S1 decides not to render a bill for the work because it was not accepted by the permit office; (b) S1 renders a bill for around 200 bucks; or (c) S1 renders a bill for substantially more than around 200 bucks. You could attempt to negotiate the payment amount down in the second possibility, but should be prepared to pay the full amount if S1 doesn't seem inclined to accept a lesser amount. Only in the third possibility would it be ethical to refuse to pay the full amount of the invoice, although you should be prepared for the possibility that S1 may remember the conversation differently or feel that, say, $350 is "around two hundred dollars."
posted by slkinsey at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2020

I think this is more akin to taking your car to a mechanic, who can't fix it. OP was paying for a solution, #1 was unable to provide that solution.
posted by rudd135 at 4:14 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

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