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How to resolve a dispute with your contractor

Contractor with tools walking back to truck Zolo

Having major renovations carried out on your home is always nerve-wracking, even when it’s going well. It’s a significant investment that usually creates several weeks (or even months) of additional stress, paperwork and tidying up, although in the end you should be left with a beautiful renovation that you can be proud of for years to come.

But what happens if you’re not happy?

If the standard of the renos seems to be slipping (or is downright bad), there is a recommended process for resolving the situation. While contract law is under provincial regulations, most provinces adhere to the same or similar rules. This means there is a standard method of communicating with your contractor and with resolving grievances.

Communication method when resolving complaints with home reno contractor
Ontario Renovators’ Council

Contacting the contractor and agreeing to deadlines

Contractor shaking hands with homeowner deal Zolo

Your first step should be to contact your contractor as soon as you see there’s a problem. You will need to agree on what the problem is, how the builder should resolve it and on which date they will attend your home to fix it. If you reach them via phone, it’s good practice to follow up with a letter or email so you have a record of the conversation to refer back to later. Hopefully, the contractor will show up on the arranged date and complete the work to a satisfactory level.

If they don’t, the next step is to contact them again and agree on a final date of expected completion. No matter what their reason (or excuse) for failing to appear the first time, they are in breach of a contract with you and should complete your outstanding work as a priority.

Make it clear that if they do not complete the work by the agreed date, you will be hiring another contractor to finish the job and will seek legal advice on how to claim these extra costs back. It’s recommended that you actually get quotes from three other contractors so that you can show how much you will be claiming from your original contractor.

Escalating the claim

Woman signing construction contract with contractor to build a house

At this point, if the contractor still does not respond, you should check to see if he is part of a trade association. If he is, the trade association may have a designated dispute resolution scheme to address problems with its members. Dispute resolution is there to negotiate between the contractor and consumer until a satisfactory solution to the problem has been made.

If this fails, court action may be necessary. In order to bring the problem to court, you will need to provide evidence (such as photographs) of poor workmanship. You may also want to have a professional report carried out by another builder, or the court may even appoint an ‘expert witness’ (usually a surveyor or someone similar) to explain the matter and provide an unbiased opinion for arbitration.

You may choose to have the work carried out by a third party. If you do, send an itemized receipt of the materials and work carried out to the original trader. Should they refuse to send the money, you can launch a claim in small claims court and, should the judge rule in your favour, you may be awarded a settlement up to $25,000 CDN, depending on the jurisdiction. If your bill is higher than this, you will need to hire a lawyer.

How to prevent a dispute from arising?

Contractor with tools walking back to truck Zolo

Court costs can be extremely expensive – usually far more than the amount you’re fighting over – so it’s worth doing everything you can to avoid your dispute getting that far. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risk of a dispute and put you in good standing, should any small problems arise.

The main thing is to have a clear contract, drawn up by someone who knows what a builder’s contract should look like. This could be an architect, a solicitor or other industry professional. It should cover the agreed budget, everything included in that price, anything that may be added as an agreed “extra” and the timescale – with interim deadlines and payment dates.

Also, make sure to keep all of your documentation safe and well-organized. This includes plans and receipts but also written confirmation of any changes that happen over the course of the project. You may also decide to keep a site diary, documenting what work was being done and whether any issues arose.

If anything appears to be veering away from the pre-determined cost, timeline or quality, a robust contract should be able to help you – or the contractor – nip the problem in the bud. For more helpful tips, read TrustedPros “Contractor Hiring Guide.”

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Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is a Brighton, UK-based content writer. She writes on a variety of topics including homeowner tips, smart tech, travel and business planning.