You’ve gone through the process of obtaining financing for your home project, selecting a contractor and rearranging your life to accommodate renovations. Now, at the finish line, the result is anything but satisfactory.
Unfortunately, not all contractors are created equal. Many are honest and have good practices, but others may cut corners. As a homeowner, you must know your options and rights when you have a contractor who does a poor job.
Ensure It’s the Contractor’s Fault
Your very first step should be verifying the poor result is actually the contractor’s fault. Moving forward with any of the other measures would be highly inappropriate if it wasn’t.
Depending on the age of your home, a quality renovation may look less than ideal. Foundation settling, weak ceilings or floors and other signs of aging can throw a room out of alignment and cause unique quirks to appear in the finished project. If you don’t have it in your budget to make those other improvements, you’ll have to accept the unique-looking upgrade as it is.
Also, you can’t expect your contractor to be at fault for finishes you don’t love in the final space. When you select your tile, countertops, flooring and so on, you’ll have to live with the choices you made. A good contractor or interior designer can help lead you in the right direction, finding finishes you’ll adore and pair well in your home.
Have a Chat
The next step would be to have a sit-down chat with your contractor. It’s a good idea to get their perspective on the situation. Go into the meeting with an open mind and clear head. There may be a perfectly rational explanation for the end product. If it turns out your strict budget was the reason for many of the choices, you may not have any grounds for further action.
They may also be able to explain how the unique qualities of your home led to some of the choices they made or the appearance of the final reveal. You owe it to them to hear their side before you take action against them, especially if your contractor seemed upfront during the entire process and followed the agreed-upon timelines and budget. It can save both of you a major headache if you take these first two precautionary steps.
Send a Warning Letter
If you didn’t get a satisfactory answer or promise from the contractor to fix their mistakes, it’s time to move on to a warning letter. When there’s a possibility you may end up in court or have to prove your case to an insurance company, keeping everything in writing is absolutely essential.
You must be void of emotion in your warning letter, sticking to only the facts. This letter could come up as evidence in court, so you want to remain as neutral as possible while still getting your point across. For added protection, send the letter by certified mail so they have to sign for it. Before wrapping up your message, ask that the contractor responds in writing.
Fire Your Contractor
The contract you have with your contractor gives them certain protections that typically prevent you from firing them outright. Instead, you must have evidence of their wrongdoing and precisely how they breached the contract.
In case you end up in small claims court or higher, you’ll need pictures and possibly expert witness testimony from a third-party contractor who viewed the renovation and deemed it unsafe, poor quality or not to code.
If you can prove they breached the contract, send them a certified letter giving them a chance to rectify the situation within a certain number of days. After the set time is up, if you haven’t heard from them or they flat-out refuse to fix the problems, you’re within your rights to fire them.
One last tip — review your contract carefully before firing your contractor. You need to pay special attention to any clauses about termination. You may still be liable for some or all of the originally agreed-upon price.
File a Complaint
When you first looked at your contractor options, you probably noticed many advertised as “bonded” and “licensed.” If your final choice is either of those, then you have further action you can take against them to recoup some of your losses.
Contractors have the option to be bonded, meaning they’ve purchased special insurance from their provider to cover them in the case of customer complaints. However, the protection works both ways.
If your contractor’s work turned out subpar or unsafe, you can file a claim with their insurance company and get reimbursement for your renovation costs. You’ll have to prove yourself by sending in photos at a minimum. The insurance company then tracks down the contractor to pay them back.
Not all contractors are bonded, though. You may need to contact the state licensing board instead. The state’s reaction will depend on where you reside and where the contractor obtained their license — each state works differently. Typically they’ll require the contractor to go the mediation or to settle the situation with you. If they’re uncooperative, the contractor stands to lose their license.
Turn to Arbitration
Your contract likely has an arbitration or mediation clause requiring you to settle disputes through those means rather than proceeding to court. Mediation and arbitration are much cheaper than hiring lawyers and standing before a judge, so it benefits both parties to solve your problem in this manner.
Arbitration is a legally binding method. The arbiter has the power to review the evidence and decide on the case. Proceedings can take a while, but you have the benefit of a firm conclusion.
Mediation is much more informal. A neutral third party will aid you and the contractor in coming to a decision both of you can agree on. These meetings are usually for venting feelings and creating a compromise where both parties lose and win a little.
Take Them to Court
If arbitration and mediation aren’t viable options, you can hire a lawyer and sue your contractor. This should be your absolute last resort because it can get very costly. Even if you ultimately win the case, you could end up spending more on legal fees than the renovation costs were worth.
Leave a Bad Review
No matter what option you choose for handling your contractor, you should leave a review to warn the next person. Leave specific details about why you didn’t like their service. Did they use poor-quality materials? Was their work not up to code? Did they disappear when you asked them to fix something?
However, it’s crucial to remember contractors can’t control every factor in a home renovation. If the problem is not their fault or they own up to their mistakes and fix them willingly, you should consider leaving a good or neutral review. Contractors rely on word of mouth, the internet and social media to bring in new business, so a spiteful review could drastically impact their livelihood.
React in a Calculated Manner
As the homeowner, you have several options when dealing with shoddy work from your contractor. However, you’ll need to base your reaction on the severity of the situation and the amount of money you stand to lose. Some of these possibilities may be too escalated for the circumstances or carry too much financial risk. If you feel uncertain about how to proceed, your best bet may be to pay for a lawyer’s consultation.