Learn how to handle a difficult situation with your contractor
While most home projects go off without a hitch, every now and then, issues with a contractor can occur. We all have bad days from time to time, and sometimes we can read into a person's comment or tone and assume the worst.
But if your contractor is threatening to file a lien or sue you or sending invoices for an amount not dictated by the contract, that’s inappropriate behavior. Learn what to do if your contractor is threatening or bullying you.
1. Communicate and Document Everything in Writing
While any threat from a contractor can be unnerving, it's important to remain composed. A lot of contractor issues are due to miscommunication and can be resolved through calm but candid conversations. Most contractors are honest and hardworking, but every now and then, you can run into an issue.
Talk with your contractor about the issue and see if you can come to a common ground. If it’s a matter of money, refer back to the contract, emails, or any other written communication you have to stand your ground. Provide receipts, paid invoices, or bank statements as proof—it’s possible they made a mistake and truly believe you never paid when you did.
Be sure to record everything in writing. If you have a verbal conversation, send an email or text as a follow-up so the details are documented. The better records you have, the easier it is to pursue legal action down the road if needed.
2. Refer to Your Agreement and Modify if Needed
If you have an agreement with your contractor, whether it’s a formal contract or a text exchange, pull out all the notes you have. Refer to details such as payment terms and the timeline for the work. Be open to listening to their perspective, but stand firm on what you agreed to and make arguments based on what's in writing.
Keep in mind that certain scenarios are unavoidable, like supply chain issues, staffing problems, or illness. And if a heated argument occurred because something is on backorder or because your contractor couldn’t work because they’re sick, take a beat.
Delays are inevitable and a little understanding goes a long way. Talk to your contractor and see if you can work things out.
However, your contractor shouldn’t be adding extra charges for work outlined in the original agreement. An exception to this is if you change pieces of your project, such as upgrading from laminate to tile floors. There will be a new price, payment terms, and timeline. If your contractor discovers mold during a bathroom remodel, update your project agreement so everyone's on the same page.
3. Reach Out for Help
Beyond talking with your contractor, there are agencies and resources that can help you. But before getting authorities or the Better Business Bureau involved, make sure the situation is actually that serious. Can a conversation resolve the issue? Is it a matter of miscommunication?
If your contractor truly is threatening you, here's a list of who to contact.
If your contractor doesn't own their business, reach out to someone higher up at the company who might offer you a solution.
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
File a complaint with the BBB or ask for help with mediation and arbitration services.
Local and State Resources
The department of consumer affairs, local district attorney's office, consumer protection agency, and state licensing board can offer you solutions and recourse. Contact them to see what your options are. If you feel a contractor is a threat to your safety, contact your local police.
Consult with a contract attorney who can guide you. They might counsel you on arbitration or filing a claim through small claims court. Contract attorneys usually charge up to $120 per hour.
4. Withhold Payments
If your contractor won’t finish the job or is threatening you, it could be beneficial to withhold further payment. Best practice is to not hand over final payments until all the work is done to your satisfaction.
If your contractor is bullying you for more payments, it’s possible that they are short on cash. They may not be paying their subcontractors, who could then threaten to place a lien on your property.
Talk with your subcontractors to see if they’re getting paid, and consult an attorney or your local district attorney’s office for guidance.
5. Mail a Registered Letter
Sending a formal letter to your contractor can be enough of a push to get them to complete the job and follow through with the details of your contract. Refer to your expectations based on your written agreement.
Mention that if they don't hold up their end of the deal, you'll contact the Better Business Bureau, their licensing board, bond company, or the district attorney's office. You can also mention that you plan to leave a negative review. Give your contractor a timeline, such as 10 days, to respond and take action.
You can send a registered letter yourself or get help from an attorney. When you send a registered letter through the postal service, you'll have proof you sent it. If you don't hear from your contractor after your first letter, consider sending a second one.
6. Seek Arbitration
Before heading to court, you can request arbitration. With arbitration, a neutral or third party mediates and helps form a resolution between you and the contractor. Consult an attorney about arbitration and ask what they recommend for your situation.
7. File Through Small Claims Court
You can file minor suits through small claims court. Your state has its own limit, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000. In most cases, you'll want to request arbitration before filing a claim. There are fees to file and your contract might even stipulate that you need to try arbitration before filing a suit.
8. Part Ways
If your contractor is in breach of their contract, you can let them go from your project. But first, contact an attorney to ensure you aren't breaching your end of the deal. You don't want to end up with your contractor having legal leverage over you.
Before hiring your next local general contractor, going through a vetting process can help ensure you hire someone who will successfully complete your project without issue. Read reviews, get referrals, and examine their online presence to assess their demeanor, reputation, and experience level.
This article does not constitute legal advice and is for educational and informational purposes only. We recommend that you seek input from an attorney about your specific case.