How to Air Grievances with Your Contractor (The Right Way)

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated January 3, 2022
A homeowner and a contractor looking at blueprints
Vladimir Vladimirov/E+ via Getty Images

If a contractor did bad work, you should definitely speak up—but don’t let your emotions muddy the message

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You did everything: you vetted your contractor and verified their licensing, insurance, and bonding. Yet you were still left with shoddy or unfinished work—so how can you get them to make it right? Making your voice heard while remaining respectful is key. If all else fails, you have other options, such as filing a formal complaint, opening a case with their bonding company, or even pursuing litigation.

Be Ready with the Receipts

Be ready with every name, date, time, and price that relates to the complaint. Documentation, such as receipts and written estimates, will back up your claims. Also, address what steps you would like the company to take to rectify the situation (i.e. grant you a full refund, repaint the trim work, replace the cracked toilet, etc).

Be Objective

When a contractor takes your money and doesn’t deliver, this can be difficult to process. The same applies if they do a hack job on your home—except tenfold. If you find yourself overcome with emotion, have a cup of tea and cry it out before you talk to anyone. Now, take a deep breath. You want to be calm, tactful, and objective once the conversation starts. 

A great opening line is telling the company that you have "a problem" and are looking for help in how to solve it. Explain the facts without showing emotion (lip biting permitted).

Come in Person When Possible

Letters are easy to dismiss (though it’s a good idea to write one, so you can have documentation). Phone conversations are less direct, so they’re not ideal either. On the other hand, if you show up in person, it will be a lot tougher to ignore you or argue.

Explain the Consequences

You’re not the “squeaky wheel” type, but this company or contractor has left you no choice.

If you’re not getting a positive response, explain what will happen if you don’t get action.

Here are a few repercussions to put on the table:

  • Contacting the state or county that issued their license

  • Withholding any pending payments until they make it right

  • Contacting the company that issued the contractor’s bond (usually an insurance company)

  • Taking it to a trained arbitrator who will hear both sides and make a decision (the Better Business Bureau offers arbitration for little to no fees)

  • Bringing the case to small claims court, or hiring a lawyer if the financial loss was significant

If you're dealing with a larger company, you can also ask to speak to the customer retention department. Most large companies and corporations have them, and they're a good fallback if nobody seems to know how to address your needs.

Remember the Golden Rule

As the Ancient Egyptians put it, “that which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” Treat the company with the respect you’d like in return, especially in the way you explain your complaint.

As an example, let’s say the contractor fixed a leak in your ceiling—but the next thunderstorm found you rushing for a bucket to catch the drips. Rather than accusing them of doing the job "wrong," let them know you’re still having the same problem and are in need of their help. Also, if a bill turns out higher than expected, ask for a detailed breakdown before you accuse them of "price-gouging."

Remember, you’re requesting a resolution here, not complaining just to complain. With a calm, objective approach, you encourage dialogue and their willingness to help you.

Finding a Quality Contractor

A family and a contractor talking in kitchen
kate_sept2004/E+ via Getty Images

When you get burned, it’s often hard to trust again. After all, general contractors charge a lot per hour and it’s frustrating when you don’t get your money’s worth. Fret not, though: there are tons of general contractors near you who are well worth their salt. They’re not unicorns, either—you just have to know how to find them.

First off, make sure you ask all the right questions before hiring a contractor. Ensure that they are licensed, bonded, and insured. Watch out for contractor scams such as asking for an unreasonable down payment or offering suspiciously low pricing. Again, if you verify their licensing, bonding, and insurance, you likely won’t have much to worry about.

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