How to Fire Your Contractor

Sometimes through no fault of your own the Good Contractor you worked so hard to find morphs overnight into Bad Contractor. Standards of work start to slip; jobs aren't completed properly, or on time, subcontractors don't show up on time (or at all), communication breaks down, and a feeling of impending doom hovers over your project like a bad smell. It's time to fire your contractor.

It may make you feel a bit better to realize you're not alone. Even the best-planned home renovations can go awry. Bad contractor horror stories abound. Everyone's heard woeful tales of contractors who flee the country with their customer's money, or contractors who demolish the customer's home and then disappear. There are several TV shows dedicated to fixing projects bad contractors have messed up.

Obviously, you'll be in the best position, legally, if you've got a contract from a licensed contractor that allows you to get rid of your contractor with no liability or costs to yourself. Even assuming you've got a solid contract, there are steps you need to take, and documentation you need to collect prior to firing your contractor.

You can bet that if your contractor has fallen out with customers before, he knows a thing or two about delaying tactics, and how to dodge responsibility. So you need to cover yourself. Make sure you keep written and photographic records of the work as it progresses (or not). Keep a record of all payments and never pay cash (and never pay in full until you're happy with the completed work).

Part of your job as the homeowner is to monitor the renovations progress, which also includes making sure the contractor is doing his job. If you're lucky, you can stop your contractor from making the full descent into Bad Contractor. There are warning signs you can watch for, which include not following the building plans, not sticking to the renovations schedule, making excuses for poor workmanship, no-show subcontractors, and a no-show contractor.

As soon as you have cause for concern, raise your issues with the contractor. Discuss what needs to be addressed, and then send a letter to the contractor outlining what you discussed and confirming what they're going to do to remedy the situation.

Remember that there are some things your contractor can't control. You can't lay new roof tiles if it rains constantly for three weeks. Check up with suppliers to make sure there really is a delay in delivery of missing materials and that the contractor's not just using your money to complete previous jobs.

If there's no improvement ask for a face-to-face meeting. Send a second letter, again outlining what needs to be addressed, but with a warning that you will terminate the contractor agreement, complain to their licensing board, and hire more workers at their expense if the problems aren't sorted. In this case we suggest to our customers to look out for a licensed professional near you at contractors near me just to make sure you are hiring the right contractor in your area.

It's essential to have a good paper trail of your efforts to contact the contractorand get him to cooperate. Keep notes on telephone conversations, as well as letters, and face-to-face meetings. This might help you in court if it comes to that. If you really get to the point where you need to fire your contractor, contact a lawyer to see where you stand. This, of course, assumes that you've had a contract drawn up in the first place that allows you an out if the contractor doesn't perform to the required standard. You really don't want to get sued for breach of contract that would be adding insult to injury.

Be aware that unethical contractors can put a lien on your property when you refuse to pay for sub-par work (or no work at all). It may take you a long time to sort out in the courts and in the meantime the contractor will have moved on to their next victim. Complaining to contractor licensing bodies can also produce mixed results. Some are slow to respond to consumer complaints and have been accused of being pro-contractor, rather than unbiased ombudsmen. This is improving, however, and many licensing boards are becoming better advocates for the consumer.

Hopefully you won't find yourself in the position of needing to fire your contractor. But if you do, be sure to document everything, seek professional advice, and stick to your guns. There are good contractors out there, and once you find one be sure to hang onto him. They're like gold dust.