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Is an agreement vaild or enforceable if the language in the agreement is Ambigious?

Pittsburgh, PA |

I hired a contractor to stain my deck. I requested that the underside also be stain to match the top. The contractor sent me a proposal listing all items that where to be treated. After he stated he was finished I questioned him on the underside. He claims that was not part of the proposal. I believed it was part of it and now there is a conflict in terminology. He used techincal terms when describing the deck. The terms have several meanings and our interpetations are different. I already paid him ahead of completion and now I'm seeking a full refund because he did not do the underside and the work he did do is not acceptable at all. He refuses to refund or fix any of the unacceptable areas or do the underside as we requested. Thank you!

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Attorney answers 2

Best Answer

I respectfully disagree with the opinion expressed by the Illinois attorney who provided the previous answer to this question. There appear to be two components to your question: first, the contractor's failure to do everything you understood was included in the agreement, and second, what you represent to be the unsatisfactory quality of the work performed.

In contract law, the terms of the agreement are interpreted to favor the party who did NOT draft the agreement. Since you say the contractor wrote the agreement, if there is truly an ambiguity, you may be able to get the contractor to complete the work as requested, or to get money damages to have someone else perform the omitted work. If he completed performance of all other work to the standards the contract requires, getting a full refund would likely not be possible.

However, if you're unsatisfied with the contractor's performance, you may not want him to complete or revise the job, and if you can show that the work was substandard, you may be able to get the contractor to refund what you paid to him. You don't say what the total cost of the work may be, but it's likely under the threshold for small claims court.

Your best bet would be to go to the Allegheny County Bar Association's lawyer referral service ( - phone 412-261-5555) and request a consultation with an attorney who does consumer litigation. These consultations are very low-cost ($30 for up to a half-hour) and you would get a legal opinion on whether the language in your agreement, coupled with the work the contractor did (take photos and show them to the consulting attorney) would give you enough ammunition to make filing a claim against the contractor worthwhile.

Without seeing your written agreement plus photos of the contractor's work, there's no way any attorney could provide an informed opinion as to the contract's validity or your likelihood of success in disputing the work done under its terms.

Of course, as with all of my online answers, my advice is limited by the brevity of your question and the facts provided. Additional information would be required to provide definitive legal advice, so this answer isn't intended to, and does not, create an attorney-client relationship.

Good luck!

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{Note: Even the most basic definition of the word "deck" in the dictionary refers to the topside of a horizontal surface, like the platform upon which sailors walk on a ship at sea; the topside of the horizontal walking surface on a wooden platform alongside a home.}

It appears to me you did not understand the meanings of critical terms before you signed the contract. Now that the contract performance is complete, you cannot add your meaning to the terms and expect added performance from the contractor for no extra money.

If it was a material term to you that both the topside and "underside" of the wood were to be stained, then in plain language the contract should have been changed by you to make that clear. If the word "underside" does not exist in the contract at your request, you have no leg to stand on trying to add it after the work is done and paid in full.

I simply do not see how you can demand a full refund (or even a partial refund or fix) given the way you describe the dispute.

The contract outlines the job. You agreed. Your signed. You paid. If you want the "underside" stained either point to that wording in the contract and enforce it OR, get a new contract to clearly get that new work done.