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Blog & News

June 7, 2009

Ask the Attorney-June 2009

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 3:58 pm

Let’s talk about contractors.  It would seem that hiring one should be an easy process – you figure out what you need done around your house or on your property, you get a quote or two, you choose the one that suits you best and, before you know it, the job is done.  Unfortunately, like most things we encounter in life, it just isn’t as simple as it seems.  Things get broken, jobs don’t get completed the way you expected them to, workers get injured, job are left unfinished with you essentially being held hostage by your  project, your bill is ten times higher than you expected - this is just a partial list of things that could happen that can turn your home improvement dream into a nightmare.

So how do you avoid such a mess?  One way is to get a personal recommendation.  If your friends and relatives were taken advantage of by someone, they’ll let you know.    And if they know someone who was good and fair, they’ll let you know that as well.  Often, however, you’ve just moved to a community and you have no one to go to for such guidance.  In that case, ask whatever contractor you’re talking to about your project to give you a list of references.  A reputable contractor will have no problem giving names of their past clients to you so, if you ask and references can’t or won’t be produced, find someone else.  Make sure that you receive a number of different quotes so you can compare and contrast the various charges for your project.  There is no such thing as a standard rate.  Try to get at least 3 quotes  so you have an accurate idea as to the range of fees that can be charged for the services you need.  Use the quotes to help you negotiate the best price for the job however, keep in mind that price alone is not the best way to select your contractor.  ”Cheap” is not the same as “good” so make sure that the guy or gal who bids the lowest can actually complete the job for the price they’ve quoted you.

And, of course, get everything down on paper.  Make sure the contract you write up details the work you will have done and for how much.  Make sure it says the job will be done completely for the amount quoted and that there will be no other additional fees.  Specify whether or not the fee quoted includes the cost of materials.  If it doesn’t, be certain the contract includes a detailed list of the materials needed for the project and their related costs.  Get an estimate of how long the job will take and include that in the written contract as well.  You get the idea – the more details you include in the contract, the better off you are.  Again, a reputable contractor will have no problem putting things down in writing this way so if you sense that the person you are considering for the job is unwilling to put such details in the contract, find someone who is.  Do not pay your contractor in full before the work is started or completed.  It’s common practice to give either one-third or one-half of the total cost of the job to the contractor when they start the job with the balance of the monies due when the job is completed.  This needs to be written into the contract as well so there is no confusion regarding pay schedules.

Make sure the person you are hiring is properly licensed and insured.  There’s no trick to doing this – just ask.  Licenses are issued by the state and written confirmation is easy to produce.  The same goes for insurance.  Reputable contractors will have no problem producing their “dec” sheet for you.  A “dec” sheet is the declarations page of their policy – usually the first page – which amounts to a laundry list of the types of insurance coverage that the contractor has paid for.  The contractor should be insured to cover any losses to your personal property, injuries to their workers or workers compensation coverage, and for pretty much anything that could happen while the project is being completed.  Make sure you actually see these documents and get copies of them.  Very often you will be told that licensing and insurance are in place but the proof is never given to you.  Get the proof before the job begins.  When he project is done, it’s too late.  And, of course, make sure the insurance and license are current.  If you get documents dated from 2007, chances are they are invalid.  If you have concerns about this, call the state or the insurance carrier to get verification regarding the validity of the documents you’ve been given.  And don’t forget to check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor has had any complaints lodged against them or their employees.

If you follow these fundamental tips when hiring a contractor,  you should have no problems.  Or, when problems do occur, you will be better prepared if you are left with no choice but to act on the legal remedies available to you.  That means a small claims lawsuit.  Sometimes, such things simply cannot be avoided.  But you can reduce your chances of having a bad experience by following the advice above.  And don’t forget – if a contractor claims they’ve never heard of contracts or licenses or insurance, get someone who does.  There are an awful lot of great contractors out there who are are also fair – no one needs to work with a crook.

-Paul Czech, Esq

June Edition of Rensselaer ‘Our Towne’ magazine

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