Finding the right contractor to complete your home repair or renovation project can be difficult. Unfortunately, even if you’ve thoroughly vetted your contractor, you may still run into issues. An unreliable contractor might take much longer to get the job done than expected, and they may even abandon the project entirely.
If your contractor left a renovation half-finished and stopped responding to your calls, you’re probably wondering what your options are. This situation can be extremely frustrating, but you do have a few possible courses of action for resolving the problem. Here are six steps you could take if a contractor doesn’t finish the job:
1. Try every method of contacting them.
A contractor who decided to leave a project unfinished without a clear reason will probably not return your calls or texts. If they have a valid reason to delay the job, they would most likely communicate with you. However, you can still try to get in touch with them to figure out what happened and discuss a refund or set a date to resume the project.
If you’re not sure why your contractor abandoned the project or has put the work on hold, try to approach the conversation amicably. Even though the situation is frustrating, you’re more likely to reach a successful resolution if you can speak to each other respectfully. Emailing or texting your contractor may be a better option than calling because written communication leaves a paper trail. If the contractor doesn’t respond to your message, though, you should try every method available for contacting them.
2. Report the incident to the Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) collects reviews and complaints on businesses. Many people use the BBB to research contractors and companies before hiring someone, so filing a complaint may motivate your contractor to resolve the dispute. You could even notify your contractor of your intent to file a complaint before you go through with the action, which may be all the encouragement they need to finish the project or refund your money.
The BBB offers arbitration services, too. In some cases, mediation with the BBB is informal and unofficial. In other cases, the agreement you come to may be binding. Arbitration could be an effective way for you to reach an agreement with your contractor without escalating the issue.
3. File a claim with the contractor’s licensing board.
If your contractor is licensed, they are required to have a surety bond that offers financial protection to their clients. In the event of a contractual problem, you can file a claim against the surety bond with your contractor’s licensing board. As long as your claim is approved, you can receive compensation from the funds that the contractor paid for the surety.
4. Take the case to small claims court.
Filing a suit in small claims court can be a lengthy and tiring process, so it should not be your first choice. At this point, some homeowners decide to cut their losses, spread the word about their negative experiences with the contractor, and move on. If you need to recoup the money you lost, though, filing a suit may be your only option.
Most cases involving a home renovation project are low enough in dollar value to qualify for small claims court. All states have different maximums for small claims court, so you should research the limits in your state before move forward with your case.
You must collect as much evidence as possible if you plan to file a suit in small claims court. Take photos or videos of the unfinished project, and keep a record of every time you tried to contact your contractor. You should also have evidence of the payments you made to your contractor. When your case reaches the court, you’ll explain your story to the judge and use your evidence to back up your points. Then, your contractor will have an opportunity to respond, and the judge will offer a ruling.
5. Hire a lawyer.
You don’t need a lawyer to take a case to small claims court, but consulting an attorney is never a bad idea. Working with a lawyer is especially important if your case is worth more than the maximum your state allows in small claims court. In this situation, you may need to file a claim with your county court with the help of an attorney.
Search for lawyers in your area who have experience with construction and contracting. You need someone on your side who has a great deal of knowledge in this area so that you can be sure you’re getting sound advice. Keep in mind, though, that attorneys charge steep hourly fees. Even if you win your case and receive your money back from the contractor, you’ll have to pay a large portion of it to your lawyer.
6. Find a new contractor to finish the project.
Once you’ve resolved your dispute with your first contractor, it’s time to hire a new contractor to complete the job. Finding the right contractor for the project can be difficult because the individual or company will have to review the previous contractor’s work for mistakes. Before they can begin, they also must familiarize themselves with the project and carefully plan their course of action. This can be more complicated than starting from the beginning, so contractors often charge more when they’re completing a half-finished job.
Researching contractors extensively is the best way to ensure you hire an experienced and reliable professional. Word-of-mouth recommendations are particularly trustworthy, so you could ask your friends or neighbors if they can vouch for any contractors in your area. Online reviews are a great resource, too.
If your contractor left a renovation job unfinished, you have the option to seek legal recourse. Small claims court is the most common solution for contractual disputes, but you could also file a claim against the contractor’s surety bond or hire a lawyer to file a suit with your county court. You can decide how far you want to take the legal battle by considering whether the money you’ll recover is worth the time and effort of filing a claim.
Brice Ebert with Resource Real Estate Group is here to answer all your housing related questions.