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Old 12-15-2010, 07:11 PM   #1
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


Hi folks,

My contractor was recommended to me by a family friend. He's been really nice, even while messing up the timeline of my project. It's getting to the point where I want to fire him, even though I think he does good work. I don't know what to do and would like to hear the perspective of other people in his business.

The project is a renovation for a single family rental home, no floor plan changes but redoing nearly everything: flooring, cabinets, bathroom. Replacing all the windows, and some cosmetic changes outside, etc.

I'm picky about materials (all green renovation) and have been in a lengthy research process to spec them all before we could get started. As winter snuck closer, I asked him if we could treat the exterior and interior as separate projects and start the exterior before I was done speccing the interior so that the exterior could be completed and painted before the weather changed. He said that was a good idea, and we proceeded.

The first completion estimate he gave me was November 4th. It's now the middle of December and the work still isn't done. He just started putting in windows last week.

When I've confronted him about timing, I've gotten all kinds of excuses, ranging from illness to his help being busy on another job that unexpectedly went over. He told me before we started that he only takes one project at a time--obviously this was a bold faced lie. Since passing the original target date, he's "promised" to have the job done by other dates that came and went without a word from him. I've had to track him down and find out the status of my project.

The last time I called about this, he said the delay was a cash flow issue, that some clients were delaying on paying him and that he had been putting off calling me hoping it would resolve itself. In the end, I called him and gave him more money to buy the windows. At least they're in the house now ready to be installed. I was so angry that he didn't notify me of the slowdown/obstacle as soon as it happened.

Meanwhile the weather has changed, my painters have said "screw it, we're going to paint with or without him and if we have to come back to paint around the windows or touch anything up, so be it" and they are trying their best to do their job working around the weather. It's very frustrating for everyone. Also, they have to come from three hours away (best painters I know, and absolutely trust) so it doesn't work for them to have rain days here and there.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, this house won't be painted until spring, I won't be able to rent it out, and my contractor will have cost me THOUSANDS of dollars in lost income. He knew the plan, he knew time was of the essence, and yet...

Come to find out from my family who lives next door: he's only been on the job site once or twice a week, and then for only half a day!!!!!! What the heck has he been doing???

The way I see it, this contractor has:
- lied to me
- made promises he couldn't or wouldn't keep
- completely neglected my project despite knowing that time is of the essence

And when I confront him about it, all he does is try to talk his way out of it all.

Part of the problem here is not having a clear contract. All I have is signed cost estimates. I've never done this before, but I'll never make that mistake again. Whoever does the exterior work will be someone who is willing to sign a contract with written time estimates, penalties for not meeting them, and a clear process for adjusting completion dates by mutual agreement.

In the meantime, I have to figure out what to do about this contractor. Personally, I like him a lot. I think he does great work for a reasonable price. But that's only when he, you know, actually works.

So I have two issues:
1. How to get through the exterior project.
2. How to move forward with the interior.

Re #1: What I think I want to do is call him, tell him much of the above, and say, "By the end of this phone call you're going to give me a completion date for the outside, and if you're not done by then, you're fired. I'm done playing around."

But, how would you suggest I proceed? This project needs to get DONE.

Re #2: I am thinking that no matter what happens between now and the end of the exterior project that I would be a complete idiot to let him take on the interior project, after all of the above. How can I possibly trust him again? It seems like it's too late for him to redeem himself.

Your thoughts?

Thanks for any insight/advice/help you can give!

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Old 12-15-2010, 07:33 PM   #2
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


You are not describing misbehavior; you're describing incompetence and sloth on the part of the contractor and, on your part, cowardice. (That is just my opinion.)

Threaten a lawsuit. It may even be worthwhile to go to the trouble of retaining an attorney who can put the fear of God into this guy. That will get the lead out of his pants.

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Old 12-16-2010, 02:53 AM   #3
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


We would never treat a client like that. Then again, our prices are not 'reasonable'. You pay one way or the other...
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Old 12-16-2010, 02:09 PM   #4
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


Thanks folks... I'm talking with two green contractors right now to get bids for the rest of the job.

Emailed my lawyer.

And it's not so much cowardice as inexperience, and not knowing what actions will help and what actions might make the situation worse. That's why I posted here.
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Old 12-16-2010, 03:29 PM   #5
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


I'm not an attorney but have been a contractor for a long time and have seen the good and bad side of this business. So here's one way I might handle a bad subcontractor:

send the orignial contractor a notice of delay and intent to supplement his labor. Send it by certified return reciept mail and if possible hand him a copy. It sounds like your timeline agreement may have been a (god shoudl I dare say it) verbal agreement. Hopefully you have something in writting like emails etc. Tell him he has 48hrs notice to remedy his lack of prodcution and after that 48hrs you will supplement his labor and backcharge him for any cost overruns. State that you are doing this because of damages you are accruing due to his inability to meet your agreed upon time frame.

In the meantime, get the bids from teh other contractors and be ready to contract them within 48hrs. I know your trying to be nice and IMO your letting this Mo kick you around so, you need to "Man Up" and tell him in a very firm voice to get his rear in gear or else.

Good Luck, I hate seeing bad contractors take advantage of good people.

Oh almost forgot to mention it, do not terminate him. Your counsel can tell you why this maybe bad for you.

Last edited by Nucon; 12-16-2010 at 03:32 PM.
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Old 12-16-2010, 03:35 PM   #6
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


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We would never treat a client like that. Then again, our prices are not 'reasonable'. You pay one way or the other...
Not to stir anything up, but that attitude is why there are so many complaints. You shouldn't pay an inflated fee for good service.
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Old 12-16-2010, 03:39 PM   #7
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


Thanks... just called the lawyer and left a message. I'm sad to hear that this has reached the point of legal action.

Yes, this is mostly verbal. Only thing I have in writing is written cost estimates.

And I was thinking we've only agreed to the exterior project (which I just want him to finish and we can move on) and have no agreement regarding the interior (which I have already talked to two other companies about bidding on) but it could be argued that my original deposit was for the whole project inside and out.

In the meantime would you be willing to say more about the importance of not terminating, from your experience?
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Old 12-16-2010, 03:58 PM   #8
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


It could be argued that you have breeched the contract and hindered him from performing. Its gets much more complicated.

Another approach may be this: Meet with him at the site. Let him know you really like his work but aren't pleased with the schedule. Tell him you are accrueing damages due to his inability to keep a strict schedule. Tell him you have paid him alot of money and consider him paid in full for all his work and want to part ways. Say your desire is to reduce your damages and free up his schedule to deal with his other issues. If he agrees get him to sign a final waiver and say adios amigo!

If he doesn't agree tell him he's got to agree to a schedule and put it in writting. State in this new agreement "Time is of the Essence", failure to meet the timeline is "Material Breech of Contract" and no extension of time will be given for any reason whatsoever wether or not he was at fault. You can always state that he will recieve one day of time for eveyday lost to weather conditions but he needs to request the extension of time within 24hrs of the delay otherwise he forfeit the right to request the extension of time. No extension of time will be given except if agreed to in writting at your sole discretion.

Whatever you do in a contract don't include "penalties" for delays or anyother reason in your contract. Use "liquidated damages". Your attorney can explain why.
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Old 12-16-2010, 04:14 PM   #9
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


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Not to stir anything up, but that attitude is why there are so many complaints. You shouldn't pay an inflated fee for good service.
Contracting is a tough business. The margins are often thin enough that contractors need to have multiple projects going on to stay profitable. You want a discount, then you can't be the sole priority. People complain about contractors because they are ignorant of the business side of it and they have a tendency to take things personally and attack his character - sloth, liar etc. The OP's first instinct is to reach for the stick. He should take the money he would pay to the lawyer and use it as an inducement for the contractor to finish up in a timely manner. That's how you get things done.
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Old 12-16-2010, 04:26 PM   #10
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Contracting is a tough business. The margins are often thin enough that contractors need to have multiple projects going on to stay profitable. You want a discount, then you can't be the sole priority. People complain about contractors because they are ignorant of the business side of it and they have a tendency to take things personally and attack his character - sloth, liar etc. The OP's first instinct is to reach for the stick. He should take the money he would pay to the lawyer and use it as an inducement for the contractor to finish up in a timely manner. That's how you get things done.
I just want to note that in this particular case the client (me) has neither expected a particularly cheap price nor expected to be the sole priority.

I HAVE expected to be told the truth... he told me he doesn't take more than one project at a time, which is clearly untrue.

I HAVE expected him to do what he says he will, and considering that the original completion date *he gave me* was November 4th, with a number of revised completion dates come and gone with nothing but excuses, he doesn't seem capable of doing that either.
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Old 12-16-2010, 04:39 PM   #11
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


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... and use it as an inducement for the contractor to finish up in a timely manner. That's how you get things done.
In a third world country.
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Old 12-16-2010, 05:06 PM   #12
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In a third world country.
I forgot. We're an adversarial culture. EVERYTHING must be settled by fighting.
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Old 12-16-2010, 06:33 PM   #13
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


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Thanks... just called the lawyer and left a message. I'm sad to hear that this has reached the point of legal action.

Yes, this is mostly verbal. Only thing I have in writing is written cost estimates.

And I was thinking we've only agreed to the exterior project (which I just want him to finish and we can move on) and have no agreement regarding the interior (which I have already talked to two other companies about bidding on) but it could be argued that my original deposit was for the whole project inside and out.

In the meantime would you be willing to say more about the importance of not terminating, from your experience?
I don't see what a lawyer is going to do other than cost you more money and give the "contractor" heartburn. You should just tell him he's done since he can't meet (or hasn't met) the construction schedule.
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Old 12-16-2010, 06:40 PM   #14
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


One thing you DO want to do: get a release of lien from EVERY subcontractor or vendor involved in this project - your contractor is having "cash flow" problems, and if you paid your contractor be he has not paid subs or suppliers, they can file liens against your property.
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Old 12-16-2010, 06:50 PM   #15
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How to deal with misbehaving contractor?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Windows View Post
Contracting is a tough business. The margins are often thin enough that contractors need to have multiple projects going on to stay profitable. You want a discount, then you can't be the sole priority. People complain about contractors because they are ignorant of the business side of it and they have a tendency to take things personally and attack his character - sloth, liar etc. The OP's first instinct is to reach for the stick. He should take the money he would pay to the lawyer and use it as an inducement for the contractor to finish up in a timely manner. That's how you get things done.


Why should he be induced with more money?

If a price was agreed on, a timeline set, why should you try to bribe the guy to finish?

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