What Can I Do If a Contractor Doesn’t Adhere to Our Contract?

Stephanie Shaykin
Updated September 28, 2021
Contractor discusses with homeowner
SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images

There are steps you can take to remedy the situation when a contractor doesn’t fulfill their end of the deal

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All homeowners want to find a contractor that will do an excellent job and charge a reasonable price–that’s the dream! Many professional contractors will do just that. Some contractors may take advantage by charging a high price for their services and delivering incomplete or subpar work. If this happens to you, then you'll need to know your options.

1. Document the Work and Use Receipts

Despite doing your research and hiring (what seemed like) the best contractor, you may have bad luck. Poor quality of work, inefficient installation, or poor communication can leave you feeling duped.

Even if you don’t see the warning signs of a bad contractor, always be 10 steps ahead. Document the timeline of events and store paperwork including contracts, supply receipts, and canceled checks. Be mindful that over time, your memory might fade.

2. Take the Contractor to Small Claims Court

You can pursue a case in small claims court if you feel a contractor has shorted you or left you in the sawdust. In small claims court, you can file monetary claims against other individuals or companies. You can typically file for damages up to $10,000. However, the amount you can claim varies state-to-state. 

In a small claims lawsuit, you present your claim against the contractor for failure to meet set contract terms. If the contractor does not show up to court, you win your case by default. If the court awards you payment, you collect the money from the contractor.

3. Consult an Attorney

In extreme cases, the contractor could owe you more than the state limit on small claims. You might also feel more confident hiring an expert lawyer. 

If a contractor takes down payment and does not complete the job outlined in the contract, they could be guilty of fraud. In the event of a breach of contract, you might want to file a lawsuit.

Construction attorneys know how to find and remedy contract violations. The attorney will help you determine what they owe and the best route for pursuing the contractor or business.

The most expensive remedy is to hire an attorney, and the process of filing a lawsuit takes time. So, when you seek out counsel, consult with them to gauge if you have a strong case. If so, hiring an attorney may be worth the time and money. 

4. File a Complaint With the State

Most states require contractors in the construction industry to be licensed. So if you’re having difficulties getting your money back from a contractor, contact your state's licensing board to file a complaint. If you believe that a contractor has mistreated you, the state board may be able to mediate. Keep in mind this does not get your money back, though.

However, the board can take action against the individual's license if they deem it necessary. This could prompt the contractor to return what they owe you.

5. File a Claim Against the Contractor's Bond

Homeowners may also exercise provisions in the contract for a contractor's bond. A bonded contractor has an agreement with the customer and their insurance agency.

The bond is a guarantee that the contractor will perform the services outlined in the contract. If they don't, you can report this failure to your issuing agent for restitution. The bond is proof of an agreement between the contractor and the homeowner. If they don't complete the job, you can get your money back.

6. Post an Online Review

First try to contact your contractor personally with any issues, but if that fails, online review platforms might do the trick. Social media sites or even community boards are places for you to discuss your negative experience with any contractor. 

Every business owner has a reputation to maintain, and a contractor is no exception. So, any negative review might steward your contractor to make things right. You should only post accurate reviews, though. Provide evidence of the unmet promise or unsatisfactory work. If your review is dishonest, the contractor could sue you for libel or false statements.

7. Avoid a Property Lien

A common issue homeowners might face is a property lien.

If you hire a contractor to improve your property and they don't get paid, the contractor has the right to place a lien on that property. They will then take you to court for payment. Construction liens can have a significant impact on any project. They can tie up bank loans, scare away potential contractors, and cloud title ownership.

If a lien has been filed improperly on a property, contact the local court or county clerk to determine the next steps. Usually, this will involve filing an affidavit of rebuttal with the court.

Under most circumstances, subcontractors have a certain amount of time to file a lien. They also have to provide homeowners with notice upfront. If there's a lien on your property, you can file for removal with the office of recording.

Ask the general contractor before final payment for lien waivers from suppliers and subcontractors. Ask whether the labor or supplies were paid for and if they will give up their right to file a future lien. You'll have protection in case things go south. 

8. Hire a Trustworthy Contractor for Your Home

Sometimes it takes one wrong contractor to leave a bad taste in your mouth. But, there are a lot of contractors near you with integrity, skill, and experience. For the best experience possible, homeowners should take these steps when hiring a contractor:

1. Do your research thoroughly, and likewise research the company. Make sure to ensure that your information is coming from trusted sources before you hire anyone.

2. Ask as many questions as you can about their service.

3. Refrain from paying everything up-front and always get receipts for materials.

4. Get everything in writing to avoid future disputes later.

The best way to protect yourself from an unsatisfactory job is to make sure any detail you want a guarantee for is in the contract. That way, you can move forward with your project with confidence.

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