Contractor Disputes

Contractor Disputes

When dealing with a dispute with a contractor working on your property, there are several steps you can take to resolve the issue. These range from direct negotiation to formal legal actions. Here’s a structured approach you might consider: 

Direct Communication

Begin by addressing the issue directly with the contractor. This can often be the quickest and most cost-effective way to resolve a dispute. Clearly state your concerns and desired outcomes. Keeping a record of all communications can be helpful in case the dispute escalates. Take photos, keep emails/texts. If you discuss something verbally with the contractor, send a confirming text/email so you create a paper trail of what was discussed and agreed to. For example, if my contractor tells me he’s going to paint the baseboards in the kitchen I might send a follow up text saying, “It was great chatting with you today. Just to confirm, you will be painting the baseboards in the kitchen”. If they fail to respond with a text along the lines of “I never said that” then it will be harder for them to later argue to the judge that they never agreed to paint the baseboards.

Review Your Contract

Before taking further steps, review the contract you have with the contractor. Understand what it says about dispute resolution, the scope of work, timelines, payment terms, and any warranty or guarantee. This will help you understand your rights and obligations. Some key sections to look out for: 

  • Is there an attorneys’ fee clause that would allow you to recover fees? 
  • Is there a right to cure/notice provision that you must follow? 
  • Is there an arbitration/mediation clause that prevents you from filing a lawsuit?

Making a Bond Claim

If your contractor is bonded, you can file a claim against this bond. Contractor bonds are a form of insurance that contractors are required to have in some jurisdictions. They protect against incomplete work, non-compliance with building codes, or other contract violations. To make a bond claim, you will need to contact the surety company that issued the bond and provide evidence of your claim. An attorney can help you with a bond claim, or you can file one on your own.

Filing a CSLB Complaint

If you’re in a region where the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) operates (like California), you can file a complaint with them. The CSLB can help in situations where the contractor has violated state.

Civil Litigation

If other methods fail, you can consider civil litigation. This involves taking legal action against the contractor in court. It’s usually a last resort due to the time and expense involved. In litigation, you’ll need to prove that the contractor breached the contract or was negligent. It’s advisable to consult with an attorney who specializes in construction law to understand the merits of your case and the legal process. Starting with pre-litigation negotiations (typically in the form of a demand letter on attorney letter head) is advisable to try to keep costs down.

Consulting an Attorney

At any stage in this process, it can be beneficial to consult with an attorney. They can provide legal advice specific to your situation, help you understand your rights, and guide you through the more complex aspects of dispute resolution.

Remember, the best approach depends on the specifics of your situation, including the nature of the dispute, the terms of your contract, and local laws. It’s important to keep all documentation related to your project and the dispute, as this will be critical in any form of dispute resolution licensing requirements. This could include poor workmanship, abandonment of a project, or illegal practices. The CSLB has the authority to investigate complaints and take disciplinary action against the contractor. The CSLB will often offer free mediation and resolution services. The CSLB website will also be the place you can find a contractor’s license number and bond information. The CSLB does not typically consult with your attorney – this is a claim you can and should make on your own, and the website has a user friendly glide path to help you with the process. 

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