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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi -

I'm several months into a big basement renovation project and am in need of advice on how to resolve issues with my GC. The GC is a large firm working on many jobs.

Some of the main issues have been:

- I indicated that I wanted the office soundproofed, as I also use it as a music practice space. I made it clear that the soundproofing performance was important to me, and that I wanted a written description of the soundproofing measures that would be carried out prior to final approval. The GC promised to send me an email with the specific soundproofing features for my review, but never did. Instead, the crew showed up the next day and slapped up two layers of drywall, neglecting other things I wanted to discuss (RC etc.) I'm now getting bills for this work, which I don't feel like I was given the chance to approve.

- the drywall installed in the office was horribly done. I've taken pictures that show pretty much every bad practice you can imagine. The edge gaps are huge and variable, making them difficult to caulk as required for soundproofing, the openings around receptacles are also huge and irregular, and a significant fraction of the screws don't actually hit studs (which are almost never at 16" spacing). Despite repeated reminders that I wanted the room soundproofed with two drywall layers + RC, the electrician kept installing boxes etc. as per normal drywall and they keep trying to bill me for having the electrician come back to move them to the proper depth. The electric panel was also initially hung at a ridiculously low height (for lazy reasons stemming also from lack of communication) and at the wrong depth for multi-drywall. I did get the electrician to raise the box, but they want to charge me.

- I paid for 3" of polyurethane spray foam around all exterior walls, and after tearing out their drywall I determined that it's actually 2" in most places.

- while I told them I would take over the office/music space work myself, they did finish the other rooms. It took a long time for them to plaster over the amateurishly hung drywall, but aesthetically it looks ok on the surface. However, a lot of the bulkheads are subtly but visibly crooked or not level. This was all new framing, in a newly built basement foundation. They are charging a pretty high fee, for what seems to be quite poor workmanship.

I want to be fair, and I'm happy with some aspects of the project as well. However I need to protect my interests and make sure the billing and services rendered are fair as well. I also don't want to delay finishing what has been a difficult slog for me and my family, or end up with a mechanic's lien on my house through payment disputes.

Very grateful for any advice on how to resolve quickly and effectively - I really want to thank this forum for the great info already rendered! I've made a lot of newbie mistakes in this big project, but nobody ever made me feel like an idiot (I can do fine on my own for that). I'm learning a lot, and hopefully can give back here some day.

P
 

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flipping slumlord
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- I indicated that I wanted...
That phrasing (indicated) is far too vague for a legal contract.

That last word is what this all comes down to: contracting is about contracts. The skill/trade involved is secondary to the legal process & protections.

Your dealing with a "contract-or" who knows (or should) where the foul lines are but even with the most honest and noble people you put yourself at a severe disadvantage when you don't have VERY CLEAR expectations articulated in written form (specifications, drawings, iso details, etc)

Ideally this is done with an architect or at least an active designer type involved to create those specs and be and available to intercede.
Like now.

In short, you're playing catch up ball in a negotiation process that really should be started all over again. If you can wait/afford to have the work suspended for a week or a few months until that can be completed it might be the best approach.

Start by reviewing your contract documents WITH an informed professional.

hth
 

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Discussion Starter #3
That phrasing (indicated) is far too vague for a legal contract.

That last word is what this all comes down to: contracting is about contracts.
The skill/trade involved is secondary to the legal process & protections.
You're right, and I could have managed this a lot better.

The context of that admittedly vague 'indication' is this: I had repeatedly brought up soundproofing, and asked to sit down to discuss how it would be done. Before Christmas, I could see from the materials on site and initial work that they just weren't even thinking about it. I finally got the GC by phone and I made it clear I wanted the room soundproofed. The conversation was very rushed, in French (not my native language), and over a bad cell phone connection.

The one thing I made very clear was this: I'm not sure I understand everything you've proposed. Please send me a written proposal by email for final approval.

I never got the written proposal, and instead the guys showed up the next day and just did the work to a specification I would not have approved.

Now I'm getting a bill for that work, which I don't want to pay. You are correct that the workmanship has no bearing, but my reaction was that the workmanship indicated the GC's crew lacked the skill to implement proper soundproofing so I would have to get someone else to do it.

I realize my position might not be that strong - that's why I'm running it by you guys as a sanity check before I get all high and mighty with the GC. I feel partly responsible.

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Is it correct to say that you did not have a written contract? Unfortunately you should not have let anyone start until you both had agreed to the terms in writing. He might know that you don't have much to stand on legally, so the best you can do is try to convince him. If they did things incorrectly that made the electrician have to return, then explain that to him as many times as it takes.
 

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I dunno know, maybe I'm naive.... but....
The first thought that jumps out to me- and perhaps you've already done it- is that it's time for you and your GC to have a calm face-to-face over a cup of joe and both be completely open about your concerns. Turn off the cell phones. Speak in a common language. Make sure you understand each others perspective fully. Then see what accommodations might result from that.
It's in your interest to get what you've paid for.
It's in his interest to see you a satisfied customer.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Is it correct to say that you did not have a written contract?
Sorry as I realize what I wrote could have implied there was no contract, which is clearly a bad idea!

There was definitely a contract - we've tried our best to do everything properly. The GC has a license, we're paying all taxes (tax evasion is huge here), have all required permits, and there is a contract.

However, the structure of the contract is a bit tricky. There was an initial contract outlining all of the basic services for finishing a basement. This contract was negotiated and signed before starting any work or paying any money. Thus far all's good.

At the end of the contract, there is a section on "options" that includes stuff like soundproofing. Prices are not indicated, but it serves as a placeholder and the contract indicates that any options to be taken will be detailed in a subsequent written "adjustment" to the contract subject to approval prior to execution.

For the most part, this has worked ok. We received written proposals with specifications and pricing for the options, and in some cases we declined and others we accepted. This is what I expected for the soundproofing - indeed I made it very clear that I wanted to review the technical specifications prior to proceeding. He didn't send the written spec, and went ahead and did the work.

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Discussion Starter #7
I dunno know, maybe I'm naive.... but....
The first thought that jumps out to me- and perhaps you've already done it- is that it's time for you and your GC to have a calm face-to-face over a cup of joe and both be completely open about your concerns. Turn off the cell phones. Speak in a common language. Make sure you understand each others perspective fully. Then see what accommodations might result from that.
It's in your interest to get what you've paid for.
It's in his interest to see you a satisfied customer.
Hey I think you are totally right, and this is my plan. I've already arranged a meeting Monday, and our brief discussion over the phone was friendly.

I know my questions here make it sound like I'm ready to get all legal and aggressive right off the bat, but it's more that I think I can better protect my interests in the friendly discussions if I know what recourses are possible if there is just no seeing eye to eye.

The GC *could* just insist that his work is to industry standards, that the shoddiness I've pointed out will not be visible when finished, and that he thought I was ok with the soundproofing and that I should just pay since he did do the work. In the event that he won't concede any kind of shortcomings in the work, I'd rather be able to come up with something better than just saying "uh, ok well here's full payment sorry for wasting your time with my silly concerns".

There is a mediation service offered here through the construction bureau that managed contractor's licenses. As a backup I could invoke that. I suppose it's good to step back and ask what I want from him - I feel like I've paid top dollar and am getting really marginal work for it. I would like some kind of rebate on work already done to poor standards, and not to pay for the soundproofing that was done without a written quote to approve.

P
 

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flipping slumlord
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However, the structure of the contract is a bit tricky.

There was an initial contract outlining all of the basic...
At the end of the contract, there is a section on "options"...
Object lesson:
boat-dingy-0011.jpg

For the most part, this has worked ok.
...for the soundproofing - He didn't send the written spec,
and went ahead and did the work.
It may have just slipped through the cracks.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
It may have just slipped through the cracks.
Maybe the massive cracks in the drywall, or could also be the big cracks between the insulation bats and the studs spaced at 17" :wink:

Seriously, who pays when something "slips through the cracks"?

I do understand that the work executed prior to approval, and the shoddy workmanship are two separate issues... I'm ready to eat the fee if I really have to, but it does not seem right.

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
Your dealing with a "contract-or" who knows (or should) where the foul lines are but even with the most honest and noble people you put yourself at a severe disadvantage when you don't have VERY CLEAR expectations articulated in written form (specifications, drawings, iso details, etc)
I'm realizing more and more that saying "I indicated I wanted soundproofing" does not give the whole story. What I was indicating was that I wanted to sit down with the guy, and get a detailed description of what soundproofing options they can offer and have this written into a proper contract. He kind of skipped the step of writing it into a contract, and was very vague about what would be done. I said (verbally) I was ready to discuss soundproofing - not that I was ready to give the green light for work to begin without a chance to review the proposal in writing.

Ideally this is done with an architect or at least an active designer type involved to create those specs and be and available to intercede.
Like now.
I was led to believe that they had the skills needed to do/arrange just this, and that these measures would be laid down in writing for review and approval.

In short, you're playing catch up ball in a negotiation process that really should be started all over again. If you can wait/afford to have the work suspended for a week or a few months until that can be completed it might be the best approach.
I have indeed told them to complete the rest of the job, but that I'll make alternate arrangements for the soundproofed space. I did this in a friendly way, just stating that I had specific performance requirements that would be best managed by an outside consultant. Frankly it became very clear that the GC is neither capable nor interested in the level of communication or attention to detail required for a technical job like soundproofing. I have since hired an acoustic consultant who is providing detailed specs at a very reasonable price - the costs of doing it this way will be far less than my GC, with way better results. I really should have done this from the start, but the GC's sales people did a very convincing act that they knew all about this. Unfortunately this all evaporated when it came time to get them to explain how to do it and actually do the work.

Start by reviewing your contract documents WITH an informed professional.
hth
Thus far in this job, I've been burned by two informed professionals: a licensed architect who made numerous errors in plans submitted for our permit (finally had to fix things ourselves), and the licensed contractor who's managed quite a litany of screw-ups. I do see what you mean though - I should get a lawyer to look at the contract.

Our contracts with the GC say that work adjustments are subject to written approval and payment in advance prior to executing adjustments. If the contractor goes ahead and does work without written approval, it would seem that he's doing this at his own risk. I've paid everything else very promptly (we do have a staggered payment schedule laid down in the contract). Safest thing might be to just pay what he asks (avoid liens etc.) but tell the GC that I will pursue the matter in small claims court and see what the judge says.

I realize I'm getting pretty aggressive in my tone, and hope it does not go there. I just find it hard to believe that the GC can disregard my explicit request for a written proposal and then bill me for work I didn't want.

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Any small claims judge even if he lived in his car and had never been inside a house before in his life could take one look at those pictures and rule in your favor, contract or not.
I'm still amazed that he looked at it and could not see this for himself.
Personally if that was a job I was hired to do there would be no discussion between the customer and me.
It would have all been ripped out to the studs and redone for free by someone else other then the one that did it before.
 

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Why in the world would you hire a GC who speaks a language that you don't understand? I remember your drywall pics, it was a travesty. You let this guy walk all over you and impose his will. Now, after the work has been done, you are complaining? Where was all of this when he was moving forward? Lock your doors, if that's what it takes to prevent unskilled workers from proceeding.

Sorry if this comes off as harsh, but you had to see all of this coming. Find someone that you trust who can interpret for you and hope that the GC has at list a bit of integrity in him. It would benfit you both to just settle up and move on.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Why in the world would you hire a GC who speaks a language that you don't understand?
I can understand and speak French. I live in Quebec, and it is the majority language here (my first language is English).

I do not work in construction and am not familiar with French terms relating to construction - I am learning these in English and French as I go along. The particular conversation regarding soundproofing specifics was rushed (partly because he kept blowing me off about it before) and over a bad cell phone connection, meaning it probably would have been hard to understand in English as well. Because of this, I specifically and clearly asked him (in French) to send me an email with a detailed, written description of how the soundproofing would be carried out so I could approve. I requested this because I can take my time to read a written proposal carefully (I can read French reasonably well) and look up any terms I do not know. It seems he was too "busy" to send it.

I remember your drywall pics, it was a travesty. You let this guy walk all over you and impose his will. Now, after the work has been done, you are complaining? Where was all of this when he was moving forward? Lock your doors, if that's what it takes to prevent unskilled workers from proceeding.
I have a job, and it requires me to travel. I can't be there micromanaging every day, and the period when the drywall work happened I was extremely busy (trying to do my own job properly).

I ripped out all his drywall and dumped it, so I think he gets the message. He still keeps sending bills for the work and I told him no more cheques until we seriously discuss it. Before I go nuclear on him, I have to weigh the impact that will have on my family etc. (who are getting tired of living in a construction zone and all the drama).

Sorry if this comes off as harsh, but you had to see all of this coming. Find someone that you trust who can interpret for you and hope that the GC has at list a bit of integrity in him. It would benfit you both to just settle up and move on.
Sadly I did see it coming - it was the culmination of weeks of telling this guy (clearly, and in French) I wanted to discuss soundproofing measures with the aim of putting this into a written contract and actually getting his workers and subs to act accordingly. It became increasingly clear he was just paying lip service, but I had to travel through about 16 time zones in the weeks while this was brewing. Despite that (and I realize the traveling is my problem) I made numerous attempts to communicate with the guy - the problem was the pyramid structure in this big company. The owner/GC will say yes to anything, but forget to tell the site foreman. If, by some miracle the foreman hears about it, he does not tell the workers.

I am an idiot because I bought their marketing hype (and the company was recommended by someone I know). Lesson learned...

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I work with many GC's as a framing contractor. Communication issues nowadays are poor excuses. Many times we will forward email/texts through the GC, architect, engineer, homeowner, supplier, etc. This keeps everyone in the loop and also documents our communications. Obviously, you would have been better served to postpone this work until you, or someone that you trusted, could have been there to oversee. I wasn't kidding when I said you could have locked them out. This is your home. They are there to work for YOU!

If nothing else, hopefully your well written posts here will help other homeowners from getting in the same trap. You have done a great job of explaining the situation, the actions of the GC, his subs, and even yourself. Most of the time here, when we read these types of threads, the homeowner dumps all of the blame on others. You have manned up and helped others see how your actions played out in this whole thing. Here's hoping that you are able to resolve this mess and continue posting about it.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks six,

That is just the kind of tough-love devil's advocate response I need to make sure I don't go all dufus on the GC with a victim mentality.

He hasn't walked all over me until I've paid him in full for the job without making a good effort to resolve the issues. I'm meeting with him this morning, and will see where it goes.

Basically here's where I have to admit I dropped the ball:

- being away too much during earlier phases and not insisting more for a concrete discussion (leading to written contract) regarding soundproofing, although please believe me that I did ask repeatedly
- when they started the work in that room, I very briefly passed by but did not closely inspect what was done; I could have just told them to stop right then and there.
- although I did contact the GC in writing about the poor drywall quality, he never responded and I just said screw it and ripped it out myself. Partly to make a statement, and partly because I was just fed up with the difficulty in reaching this guy. I still don't regret it, but I realize it doesn't put me on the strongest leg legally

Where the GC dropped the ball:

- proceeding to do technical work (soundproofing) without written approval after he was specifically asked for a written submission
- sloppy drywall and framing work, spray foam insulation that was too thin
- generally abysmal communication between GC, foreman, subs

There are some other factors/rationalizations (work and family stuff) why I didn't push the GC harder for meetings or inspect the work in progress better such that I'm not going to beat myself up too much. If I have to eat the $1400, it's still worth it and I'll write it up to tuition in the school of hard knocks (it's a drop in the bucket for total budget on this, and I'll still have net savings by doing the soundproofing myself with my own subs). I had some work stuff going on that will cost me a lot more than $1,400 if it wasn't resolved.

I'll close in saying that I am also a contractor (as a sideline to my "day job"), although not in anything remotely related to construction. This whole experience will help me working with my own clients - I hope I can do better than this.

Cheers,

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Discussion Starter #16
Drywall

I should also say that, in all honesty, the crappy drywall hanging (in other rooms) was largely mitigated through endless mudding and plastering. Certain things are crooked or not level, to a degree that's surprising in new framing of a new foundation, but you have to know it's there to really see it. I will certainly raise this with the GC this morning.

The shoddy work was more of an issue in the room that's to be soundproofed, as there is a technical performance goal that will be compromised if the work is not done carefully (i.e. gaps that can't be properly caulked, insulation bats that don't fill framing spaces, etc.).

It's all well and good to talk of putting the job on hold for a few weeks, but I have a wife and two small kids who are very fatigued from the whole process (I'm getting sick of the laundromat, as well). My wife is on the verge of just snapping, and wants this all done yesterday :eek:

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Discussion Starter #17
Update

Had the discussion with the GC yesterday - tried to keep it non-confrontational but showed the concerns we had:

Me: stud spacing is pretty far off from 16"
GC: yeah, I guess there are a couple that are more like 17"

Me: these bulkheads are not level - the width varies by 1" from one end to the other
GC: we can fix that - it's normal and we usually clean it up at the end

Me: the spray foam that's 3" in the contract is only 2" in many places
GC: (checking measurement with some creative tape measure sleight-of-hand) hmmm, it's a bit thin here - must be 3" somewhere

Me: check these photos of the drywall hanging - I know it can be fixed with plaster, but how hard can it be to hang it properly?
GC: we always do it like this - there's no point cutting square edges because we're going to plaster it

Me: what happened to the written quote for the soundproofing work, after your marketing guys spent the last three months throwing around buzzwords like they were some kind of acoustic experts?
GC: sorry, I forgot - I thought that was what you wanted

During this discussion I realized a number of things:

- I already dropped the ball by not catching these things as they happened when they could realistically be corrected.

- the guy was kind of sweating realizing I'd noticed all these things (with the help of this forum) but he also knows I'm in way too deep financially and time-wise to kick him out

- He's right: I really *am* in way too deep to kick him out (the other stuff is almost done)

We negotiated some price reductions, and by that night I saw evidence that he read the riot act to some of his staff (work site was immaculate, some subs showed up to fix longstanding issues). Really the best I could hope for.

Thanks again to all for the input on this - helped keep it sane and move on. Certainly great lessons for "next time" (if I'm ever crazy enough to do this again - oddly it's kind of addictive).

Hope this is helpful to some other homeowner...

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Hi -

I'm several months into a big basement renovation project and am in need of advice on how to resolve issues with my GC. The GC is a large firm working on many jobs.

Some of the main issues have been:

- I indicated that I wanted the office soundproofed, as I also use it as a music practice space. I made it clear that the soundproofing performance was important to me, and that I wanted a written description of the soundproofing measures that would be carried out prior to final approval. The GC promised to send me an email with the specific soundproofing features for my review, but never did. Instead, the crew showed up the next day and slapped up two layers of drywall, neglecting other things I wanted to discuss (RC etc.) I'm now getting bills for this work, which I don't feel like I was given the chance to approve.

- the drywall installed in the office was horribly done. I've taken pictures that show pretty much every bad practice you can imagine. The edge gaps are huge and variable, making them difficult to caulk as required for soundproofing, the openings around receptacles are also huge and irregular, and a significant fraction of the screws don't actually hit studs (which are almost never at 16" spacing). Despite repeated reminders that I wanted the room soundproofed with two drywall layers + RC, the electrician kept installing boxes etc. as per normal drywall and they keep trying to bill me for having the electrician come back to move them to the proper depth. The electric panel was also initially hung at a ridiculously low height (for lazy reasons stemming also from lack of communication) and at the wrong depth for multi-drywall. I did get the electrician to raise the box, but they want to charge me.

- I paid for 3" of polyurethane spray foam around all exterior walls, and after tearing out their drywall I determined that it's actually 2" in most places.

- while I told them I would take over the office/music space work myself, they did finish the other rooms. It took a long time for them to plaster over the amateurishly hung drywall, but aesthetically it looks ok on the surface. However, a lot of the bulkheads are subtly but visibly crooked or not level. This was all new framing, in a newly built basement foundation. They are charging a pretty high fee, for what seems to be quite poor workmanship.

I want to be fair, and I'm happy with some aspects of the project as well. However I need to protect my interests and make sure the billing and services rendered are fair as well. I also don't want to delay finishing what has been a difficult slog for me and my family, or end up with a mechanic's lien on my house through payment disputes.

Very grateful for any advice on how to resolve quickly and effectively - I really want to thank this forum for the great info already rendered! I've made a lot of newbie mistakes in this big project, but nobody ever made me feel like an idiot (I can do fine on my own for that). I'm learning a lot, and hopefully can give back here some day.

P
Maticoulously document everything, Tear contract up and tell them get out and deal with via courts. If your accurately describing the scenario and have emails etc, you will win.
 

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Maticoulously document everything, Tear contract up and tell them get out and deal with via courts. If your accurately describing the scenario and have emails etc, you will win.
Your method may have been the correct course of action a little while ago but since he's already have the conversation with the contractor and received some givebacks from him is not appropriate now. As a matter of fact since he accepted what the contractor told him and the included price reductions his odds of winning would be greatly reduced.

He's happy with where things stand right now and that's most important.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Your method may have been the correct course of action a little while ago but since he's already have the conversation with the contractor and received some givebacks from him is not appropriate now. As a matter of fact since he accepted what the contractor told him and the included price reductions his odds of winning would be greatly reduced.

He's happy with where things stand right now and that's most important.
Yeah at this point (or even before the conversation) it'd be kind of like going to contest a bad parking ticket. You feel like doing it on principle, but is it actually worth the time and aggravation?

The impact on work and personal life just ain't worth it... I made my dissatisfaction known and got some concessions. Time to move on.

If it was a question of major financial or material damage, I'd think about suing. However this is mostly stuff that can be resolved. The basement will be ok in the end, although it's taking longer than necessary. I talked to the construction bureau here and it's pretty clear that there's not much you can do legally regarding delays, as long as the contract gets carried out eventually.

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