Have you ever hired a contractor who disappeared on you? Were you left with a half-completed home improvement project, with feelings of despair and frustration and not a clue as to what your next steps should be? You’re left with unused materials, shortage of capital, and a literal construction site in your home. Unfortunately, this happens to homeowners who hire both licensed and unlicensed contractors more often than you would think. However, there is recourse available. Below we discuss the steps that you can take and actions that you can pursue when your contractor abandoned your project before the construction is completed.
First, you need to determine the monetary amount of damages that the contractor has caused.
If your depending upon the amount of money seeking to be recovered, filing a claim with your local New York Small Claims Court could be a great solution. In NYC, Nassau County, and Suffolk County, Small Claims Court can be an ideal option for a homeowner seeking up to $5,000 in damages. It is a fairly inexpensive option ($15-20 initial court fee) and does not require you to be represented by an attorney. Be mindful, small claims court is only an option when seeking monetary damages – there are no other remedies available through this avenue. Click here for a guide on how to navigate small claims court. Cases seeking monetary damages over $5,000 or alternative sanctions would have to be brought in civil court and/or Supreme Court depending on damages.
Consulting with a construction attorney can provide you with valuable options. For example, did you pay for materials that the contractor has not yet brought to your home – the same contractor who is now refusing to answer your calls? Well, pursuant to NY Lien Law §76, you can serve your contractor with a demand seeking a prompt sworn accounting showing contractor’s application of all payments, including all distributors.
Regardless of whether your renovation project was for $5,000 or $500,000, you are entitled to get what you paid for and agreed to. No matter what, you have options for recourse – you should never be left with an incomplete construction project and an absent contractor. Follow the steps below to proactively prepare and protect yourself in the event a construction project goes array:
- Never pay your contractor in cash – always keep a record of the money being paid. Keep copies of all checks, receipts, and credit card statements to ensure that all payments are accounted for;
- Document your attempts at contacting your contractor. We live in an age where technology makes this task simple – screen-shot your test messages, save your emails, and keep track of the phone call attempts you made;
- Always take pictures of the work before construction, during construction, and after construction. Pictures are essential, not only for litigation purposes, but also to make it easier for a future contractor to understand what work was actually done/not done; and
- Always put it in writing! Contracts, Contracts, Contracts. Whether it is a formal construction contract or a simple written agreement, having your agreement in writing is key in understanding what the duties and tasks were of the contractor, as well as what was to be completed within the agreed-upon payment schedule.
Do not hesitate to reach out to our firm for guidance on how to handle a contractor who abandoned your construction project and to discuss what options you may have for reimbursement and/or recovery of paid-for materials, or should you need development and approval of construction agreements to meet the needs of you and your project.
The author, John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.
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