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Can I go to Small Claims Court to pay less than what I owe a contractor in California?

San Diego, CA |

I terminated a bath remodel contract after the licensed GC made several costly mistakes. The last was our discovery of the shower plumbing not done to CA code. We went from a bath/shower to a shower stall, which requires a drain move. We've paid him 3/4 of the contract, but now have to hire someone to finish the remodel and redo the shower plumbing. We also discovered he did not pull permits for any of the work. We offered to pay the remaining amount owed after the remodel is done by someone else, and plumbing fixed. He refused. He has sent a Cert. letter with a Mechanic's Lien notice, a new invoice for more monies he feels we owe him, and a promise to take us to small claims court. I have filed a complaint with the CSLB regarding all his mistakes but have not heard back yet.

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

You should obtain estimates of the cost to complete the work correctly. If he sues in Small Claims Court, you should file a counter claim for the amount of the estimates. You might want to send him a lettter enclosing the estimates and demanding that he pay the amount of the difference between the balance owed on the contract and the cost of properly completing the work.

If he files a lien, he must file suit in Superior Court (not Small Claims Court) to foreclose the lien within 90 days of its recording, or the lien becomes void. You may then petition the Court to remove the lien and recover your reasonable attorneys fees and costs. Good luck!

This answer does not constitue legal advice, nor does it creat an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice upon which you intend to rely, you should hire competent cousel familiar with this area of the law in your locale.

Adam Jay Jaffe

Adam Jay Jaffe


I agree with everything except that a judgment in small claims cannot perch a mechanics lien; it can.


If he sues you, be prepared to sue him back. You have consequential damages, not to mention an illegally built bathroom as permits were not pulled.

This is a pretty clear-cut case involving a building contractor. In having litigated about 10 building contractor cases in Small Claims, rest easy knowing that in 9 of the 10, the homeowner won, regardless of any attorney input. These cases were in Santa Barbara, LA, Ventura, and Kern Counties.

Short version is that building contractors can mess up easily. The last case I was involved in, the contractor violated 46 laws. Hard to win under these circumstances.

If you have further questions, be sure to speak with a lawyer that knows about Small Claims.

-Adam Jaffe Law Office of Adam Jay Jaffe PO Box 2437 Camarillo, CA 93011-2437 (805) 504-2223 This posting is provided for “information purposes” only and should not be relied upon as "legal advice". Nothing transmitted from this posting constitutes the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Applicability of the legal principles discussed here may differ substantially in individual situations or in different states.


I agree with what my colleagues have said. I am posting here because it appears you also posted a question about a "Labor Only" contract. I had guessed the contractor was not licensed, but in this question you say he was. So in answer to your question about what a Labor Only contract is is pretty simple. It means the contractor is not responsible for furnishing any of the materials to complete the work.



I asked both questions because I seem to have two problems. I paid him for all the MATERIALS he provided receipts for. I had no problem with that. The additional invoice is for additional labor and non labor (time off) items that is not in the original contract. Am I on the hook for that too?

Arthur Henry Skola

Arthur Henry Skola


It depends on what the contract calls for. Your description of it indicates that a description of the work was given and then a lump sum amount for that work. Time off is probably not in the description so he would have to claim you and he agreed orally to compensate him for that time. The ordinary things he would have to do to perform the work would be considered part of the original contract and not subject to additions. So, for instance, travelling to and from the job would be part of the work he agreed to do in the description in the contract. But if he was asked to do other work, he might have a claim. However, the contractor should have put that in writing.


Follow the steps: 1. fire the general contractor per terms of the contract; 2. document the site condition left behind and asses the cost for completion and the cost for the repair of defective work, if any; 3. send a demand letter to both the general contractor and his surety bond ($12,500); 4. file for small claim when contractor fails to reply your demand to your satisfaction; 5. name the surety bond as your defendant in addition to the contractor. Edward C. Ip

No attorney / client relationship established. The answr is for discussion and general information only. The lawyer had not reviewed any documents or contract prior to the above comments.

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