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Written work agreements help avoid contractor disputes

Answered by Brett Kulina ~ November 5, 2013 ~ No Comments » | Respond to this question

Our contractor said he could move our electric meter and upgrade our box. However, it failed inspection twice. We got an electrician to finish the job. Can I take the electrician's bill off what I owe the contractor?

-John

Brett Kulina

Although you should not pay any contractor for services that were not performed to agreed upon standards, it is not always clear how best to deal with these types of situations. Your problem with your contractor underscores the importance of having written work agreements with all contractors whom you hire to work on your home. Detailed work agreements should provide a clear understanding of your expectations as a homeowner, as well as protections for the contractor to ensure timely payment when the job is complete. The reality is that most homeowners and contractors do not have written work agreements that stipulate how to solve every possible disagreement that can arise during a home remodel.

As homeowner, the trump card that you hold is the almighty dollar, as you can simply withhold payment from the contractor until your dispute is resolved. Keep in mind that an unpaid contractor also has options, which usually begin with a mechanic's lien against your house. Unfortunately, once either of these moves is made, the contractor-homeowner relationship usually sours to the point of needing lawyers or other outside arbitrators to help get to any resolution.

My advice is to communicate with your contractor before things unravel to this point. Effective communication usually begins with a written work agreement that provides the baseline of each parties expectations. Once the contractor's shoddy work was discovered by the first failed inspection, you should have communicated directly with the contractor to let him know that he was not living up to his end of the agreement. At that point, you could have amended your work agreement to further detail your expectations (i.e. electrical work that is code-compliant and completed in a professional manner) as well as detail the consequences for not meeting those expectations (i.e. withholding of payment, hiring someone else). If this type of communication had happened, then no one would have been surprised when you hired another professional after the second failed inspection.

Another lesson to be learned from this is that you should only hire state-licensed electricians for these types of home improvements. Although some states may allow general contractors to complete electrical work on a residence, it is always best to hire a licensed electrician who has the experience and training to safely work on your home's electrical system. A licensed electrician knows that their reputation, and quite possibly their professional license, is at jeopardy if their work can not pass a basic home inspection.

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