I live in CA and I made the biggest mistake of paying a contractor in full (I know, bad idea) in my area to work on my house. I had hired him last fall to paint my house and he did an amazing job. I hired him to paint the inside of my house and install a backsplash in my kitchen. I also hired him to install a sprinkler system in my yard. He created an invoice for the yard work and has only done about $250 of the $650 listed. About the backsplash, I'm not sure I got an invoice from him, but he started the work back in December of last year and never installed it even though I paid him in full. Now he comes by once every few weeks and digs a small hole here and there. I assume he's stringing me along. We never contracted for a completion date. Can I take him to court?
The next time I talk with him, should I give him a deadline to finish the work before asking for my money back or threatening taking him to court? We're already 2 and 1/2 months on the yard work (a project he said he'd have done in no less than 2 weeks) and 5 months on installing the backsplash. How do I handle a situation like this? Is there a fair and reasonable time frame for simple projects before a judge can rule that this guy has no intention of honoring his word? I'm in the hole about $800 with the guy. Not a huge amount, but enough to make it worth my while to get the money back (if not at least part of it). I just don't know how to handle the situation at this point. Probably worth noting is that I don't have any formal contracts drafted up between myself and this contractor. Just an invoice for the yard work and verbal agreements for the backsplash work in my kitchen.
My first question is whether this "contractor" is licensed. In California, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to perform contracting work on any project valued at $500 or more in labor and materials. California Business & Professions Code section 7031(a) prevents an unlicensed contractor from collecting on debts owed to them by consumers under contracts due to their unlicensed status. This means that a court will not enforce the illegal contract. Furthermore, California Business & Professions Code section 7031(b) gives consumers who have contracted with unlicensed contractors the ability to sue for restitution or reimbursement of all monies paid to the unlicensed contractor for "any act or contract. In short, an unlicensed subcontractor will not only be unable to collect against the owner but may actually be liable to pay back to the owner every penny that was already paid him. This law applies even if the unlicensed contractor completes the job and even if the work performed is otherwise perfect. Consumers, building officials and legitimate licensed contractors can report alleged unlicensed activity to the Contractors State License Board's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT).
Secondly, you could make a complaint to the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB). Complaints within the CSLB's jurisdiction involve failure of a licensed contractor to fulfill the terms of an agreement and poor workmanship.
Finally, you might want to make a claim on the contractor's bond. As a general rule, a building contractor must obtain and maintain a performance bond in the principal amount of $12,500 in order to do business in California. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7071.6(a).) As an alternative to a bond, the contractor's law allows a contractor to deposit cash in lieu of a bond with the Contractor's State License Board ("CSLB"). (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7071.12.)
The beneficiaries who are entitled to make a claim against the cash deposit include: "A person damaged as a result of a willful and deliberate violation of this chapter by the licensee, or by the fraud of the licensee in the execution or performance of a construction contract." (Bus. & Prof. Code § 7071.10(c).) Wilful or deliberate failure by any licensee or agent or officer thereof, to pay any moneys, when due for any materials or services rendered in connection with his operations as a contractor, when he has the capacity to pay or when he has received sufficient funds therefor as payment for the particular construction work, project, or operation for which the services or materials were rendered or purchased constitutes a cause for disciplinary action. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7120.) The amount of the bond, or cash in lieu of a bond, recoverable by such beneficiaries is limited to $7,500.00. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 7071.9(b).)
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First, talk with him about your concerns...second develop a final "punch list" on the items that you believe were not completed or not finished to your reasonable satisfaction. If he agrees to complete the requested work on a reasonable time line, then you should be happy. If he does not respond in a reasonable manner nor agree to complete the job in a timely manner, you will want to contact the CSLB to file a complaint...and yes, you will want to mention that you are considering filing the CSLB complaint in your conversations with the contractor.
Shawn Jackson ESQ. (707) 584-4529
Business Development Attorney EMAIL: Attorneys@CaliforniaBusinessDevelopment.com
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