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Question DetailsAsked on 1/26/2018

my contractor charged me for additional work that was completed, but cost was not discussesd and now I being billed

I had a remodeling job. Some extra work was discussed. The contractor completed the work, but never talked about the additional cost until the work was finished and I received an invoice. Cost was not discussed, I'm over budget and unable to pay what he is asking. There was 4 additional projects, but cost was not discussed upfront only after the work was completed How do I handle this?

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2 Answers


This impression might be unfair to you, but this sounds like the classic New York City/New Jersey/Eastern Pennsy area owner scam - claiming cost was not discussed or agreed to with the contractor so the customer should get the work for free.

You did not say how much $ is involved, or whether you think the bill is unfair for the amount and quality of work done, or whether the work was completed - but I will assume the $ are significant (for 4 additional items of work probably so unless we are talking minor handyman type work), that the work was done adequately and completed, and that you do not have a specific claim that the price invoiced is exhorbitant.

What you do depends on a lot of things, one primary one being whether there was a written contract and written change orders for any other changes (establishing "in writing" as the stadnard for the project) or if you were "flying bare" - operating without a written contract. Other vital factors include whether residential construction contracts and change orders in your state are required by law to be in writing, whether he could reasonably have inferred that you had given him the go-ahead for the additional work (with or without a cost being deetermined at that time), whether the contract had a firm scope of work and cost or if it was based on time and materials (with applicable markups), etc.

Basically, since it sounds like you talked about the change orders (though perhaps not in those terms) AND saw the work being done to completion, because of the fact you evidently did not holler STOP as soon as you saw the additional work being done you are indebted to him (on the basis of implied approval by knowing he was doing the work and not objecting) for reasonable compensation for the work, including all applicable overheads and profit. So - it is not a question (except maybe if in one of the few states where a contractor cannot legally do work without a signed contract or work order covering it - which is a grossly unfair one-sided legislative response to out-of-control shyster contractors but ignores the client taking advantage of contractors issue), of WHETHER you have to pay for it, but only whether his invoice is reasonable for the work done. If not, without a prior cost agreement, you might have basis to counter his claim on the basis of Unjust Enrichment - getting more than is fair for the work, though unless really out of line he would still be awarded fair compensation by a court or arbitrator. But YOU, except through ethically questionable legal loopholes, cannot knowlingly get work without paying for it just because you did not agree on a price up front - that would also be Unjust Enrichment, but in your favor.

Even if you did not know the work was being done - say you live in another area and the work is being done in your absence - while totally unknown work would commonly not be compensable since this was talked about, unless the contract specifically calls for WRITTEN change orders AND all prior changes were handled that way, and most especially if the contractor was the one initiating and requiring written change orders, then without those conditions he will be in a position to state that his understanding was you approved it so it comes down to a he-said, she-said situation and he would be due fair compensation for the work.

You are going to have to think about how this developed - it is likely the result of a miscommunication, in which case since he did the work (presumably acceptably, to the normal standard for that type of work), so he would be due compensation. This sort of miscommunication is common - in my experience (which may sound sexist but I have seen it all too many times, which is why I always mandate written change orders, most commonly happens with woman clients, because they tend to talk about changes and additional work in a "let's do this" or "oh, that is just what I want" phraseology rather than in a "howmuch more would it cost to do this" so contractors commonly get burnt because she was talking about the concept, not authorizing the actual work to commence as the contractor "heard". This happens especially commonly when she is there talking to a contractor alone, but actually (in her mind) means "this is what I want - but I need to convince the hubby first" or is thinking "I love that concept - I willthink it over tonight" which does not happen or gets forgotten about but the contractor already thinks he has the go-ahead.

You say you cannot pay - so you are in a real bind on that unless you can pay for it within say 30 days of the billing date out of savings or next paycheck or such, and convince him to wait the 30 days or so (most such bills are due in 15 days, commonly). If you cannot pay it in short order like that, then you need to get an attorney experienced in residential construction contracts, customer default on them, and liens ASAP - because once the contractor gets a hint you can not pay for the work he probably will (and from his business standpoint should) slap a lien on your property, probably shortly thereafter followed by a foreclosure action to sell the property to pay his bills - or possibly, depending on the value of the home, he will file contract default action and an involuntary bankruptcy action against you to get payment. Either one will destroy your credit rating and can result in instantaneous default filings on any other loans you have out there - credit cards, car loan, student loands, mortgage, etc - because many of that type contract these days has a "mutual default" clause in it, so the minute a UCC default filing or lien filing hits the court or credit reporting computer systems most of the other lenders with automated credit action reporting will be all over it, with none of them wanting to be one of the last ones filing and possibly coming in at the tail end of a short list of available funds.

To forestall those possibilities, you might get into a situation, unless you have more than enough equity in the house (typically counting only the equity in excess of about 15-25% of the value of the home) to more than cover the bill by getting a home equity loan, it might take liquidating some other assets - savings, investments, even in the extreme sometimes eating the tax and retirement fund consequences and dipping into tax-deferred retirement accounts or such to pay the bill.

About the best you could hope for is to get a home improvement loan for the amount needed to pay his bills, though are are pretty unlikely to find a lender to pay for a defaulted construction bill unless you have equity in the house above and beyond about 15-25% of home value (typically as close to the value bottom line as they will lend to) to cover the loan amount.

He could also, if he thinks you allowed him to do the work knowing at the time that you could not pay for it, charge you with probably both civil and criminal fraud. Hence, unless you are going to be able to pay this off in a very short time which he agrees to (typically not over 30 days), you need the attorney IMMEDIATELY. Assuming you are able to pay off the original amount in full (assuming the work is all acceptably completed), you might be able to drag it out a week or few by negotiating on the price for the additional work and the exact form of a change order to accomodate it.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


Oops - the links to several related (though not necessariluy exactly the same situation) questions with answers did not take - here they are FYI:

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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