The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. This month features a conversation with Rob Meacham, a director with Tripp Scott.
Scratch a Floridian and you’ll uncover a story of a contractor relationship gone wrong. Let’s look at common contractor problems along that “gamut” along with key steps to take to prevent them.
Bill Davell: What are contractor problems to anticipate and head off?
Rob Meacham: Most obvious: the contractor doesn’t do what he or she promised (or advertised) – not completing the work expected, getting it done on time, engaging in shoddy workmanship and shortcuts, or leaving unrepaired damage and work not up to code.
You could also get overcharged, or stuck with a bill for subcontractors, workers or material suppliers the general contractor didn’t pay. The state attorney general’s office also warns about contractors who “advertise cheap services who then try to ‘up-sell’ new systems or pricey repairs.”
But the question puts it right: “anticipate and head off.” The right preparation can avoid many common issues.
BD: Where do I start?
RM: Perhaps most important: proper selection. Avoid the proverbial family member or friend of a friend who does remodeling on the side. Along with fewer protections in an informal agreement, it’s ironically often harder to set and enforce terms where there’s no “arms-length” relationship. Also, be wary of contractors showing up on your doorstep – especially after a natural disaster or other damage.
As with all other steps, do your own homework and in particular, do everything above-board. Meaning: seek a professional contractor licensed by the state, properly bonded and insured, and able to provide proof of workers compensation insurance. That way, failure to perform to expectations – or outright fraud – will subject the contractor to sanctions including, potentially, license revocation.
It’s ok, and even a good idea, to select that licensed contractor based on recommendations from friends and family members. Obtain multiple bids. And check out potential complaints with the state or the Better Business Bureau.
BD: OK. I have my contractor. Now what?
RM: The next priority is right there in the individual’s title: a written, detailed, fully vetted and agreed-upon contract. Even as you collect bids, do walk-throughs on-site with potential contractors, ideally work from a pre-written checklist of desired work, so nothing is forgotten and the contractor has a document to take notes on and take along. Discussions will usually involve back-and-forth with the contractor, who may offer his or her own suggestions, as well as reality checks on cost, scope and timing.
Once a contract is presented, sit down again and go through it to ensure it (and any associated renderings) accurately reflect what you have described. Ensure a clear and realistic timetable and provide for progress payments as work is completed. Ask for a full explanation of any terms you don’t understand.
In particular, never agree to pay the full amount up front or until all work is completed according to the contract terms and to your satisfaction. A contract should provide for a “punch list” of items to be brought up to snuff after the essential completion before final payments are made. Don’t be shy about insisting that all items are carried out before writing that final check.
If you are not confident your contract fully protects you and reflects your expectations, it’s probably worth investing in an attorney to review it to avoid more expensive headaches down the road.
BD: My contractor and contract are in place. Anything else?
RM: Just as important as choosing a licensed contractor is conducting the rest of your project by the book. Specifically, Florida law requires a contractor to apply for a permit within 30 days. Beware of contractors offering to do work less expensively if you skip this step: saving money on a permit (and inspections) could cost you big-time later in the form of fines, liability for property damage or injuries, or required “do-overs” of non-code-compliant work.
Also, inform any homeowners or condo association and obtain its approval, which will not only reflect any association requirements but also usually requirements for licensing, bonding and worker’s comp.
The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you have dotted all these “I”s and crossed all the “T”s.
BD: I got all that right – selection, contract and permit/approvals – but still have a dispute with the contractor.
RM: You have several avenues of recourse including filing complaints with the state at:
- the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (www.myfloridalicense.com or (850) 487-1395
- the Attorney General’s Office (www.myfloridalegal.com or 1-866-9-NO-SCAM)
- the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (www.floridaconsumerhelp.com).
In Broward, you can also file a complaint with the county.
You can send a demand letter, insisting that the contractor complete your contract’s requirements. And if all else fails, file a lawsuit – starting in small claims court if the amount in question is $8000 or less. Many contracts, however, require the homeowner first to submit to mediation or arbitration.
Tripp Scott’s attorneys have decades of experience in all aspects of contract and construction law and can help with everything from writing a contract to ensuring compliance with its terms to obtaining damages for contract breaches. Contact us at 954-525-7500 or [email protected].
If you have any topics you think my be of interest to our readers, we encourage you to email us at [email protected].
Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/