<BR><BR><BR><BR><BR> <p>Tens of thousands of homeowners receive unprofessional, inadequate, or fraudulent home repair work every year. What should you do if your construction project is done wrong?</p> <p>If you are viewing this text, your browser lacks the ability to read frames or iframes. Don't worry; you can still enjoy our site. All the pages can be viewed from the <A href="http://cauc2.net/sitemap.htm" TARGET=_parent >Site Map page</A>. Please come inside!</p> <p>This is also a story about an atrocious roof installed by Eagle Construction. Did the Better Business Bureau, Better Contractor's Bureau, NARI - National Association of the Remodeling Industry, GAF Materials Corporation, or the D&amp;C newspaper do anything to help the consumer? Amy wants to share what she has learned to help other consumers not make the same mistakes she made.</p> <H1>What If It's Done Wrong?</H1>
What If It's Done Wrong?

Firstly, if you discover that your contractor is not actually licensed in a jurisdiction where licensing is required, you should consider canceling your contract and obtaining a refund of your initial deposit. This is most easily done when you have made only a down payment, and the charge was to your credit card (not debit card, check card, or checking account). If the contractor refuses to refund your money, contact the credit card company right away to request a dispute. Some credit card companies require you write a letter to dispute fraudulent credit card charges within 60 days after you receive a disputed bill. In this type of situation, credit card disputes are usually successful since fraudulent companies often won't contest the disputed charge. In rare cases, credit card companies will review disputes; but refuse to reverse the charges. If this occurs, complain to a manager; and let them know you will be filing complaints.

You should always pay any contractor with a credit card or through a loan agreement. Payments made with a credit card give you the oppor­tunity to dispute charges when things go wrong! If  the contractor doesn't accept credit cards, you may want to reconsider hiring them.

If it is later in the game, or payments weren't made with a credit card, there is still hope. Check your state / local laws; many "require unlicensed home improvement contractors to return all of the money they receive from a homeowner – even if they complete the job and the homeowner is satisfied with the work. This, of course, requires litigation, and depending on the amount of that deposit, you may decide that legal involvement is just not worth the effort."

Review your contract; look for what is called a 'Binding Mandatory Arbitration (BMA)', 'Binding Arbitration Agreement', or 'Arbitration Clause', usually on the back in the Terms and Conditions. If such a clause is present, you have now entered the twisted world of "kangaroo courts." Much of the advice on this page does not apply, as you have signed away many of your consumer rights, perhaps even your right-to-file complaints. More

Contractor not reporting to work? You should advise him (in writing and by phone if you can reach him) that he must resume work immediately. Give him a few days to respond. If you get no response, you may be able to deem the contract to have been breached and find another contractor to complete the work. A quick question to an attorney may be vital to make sure you are within your rights. Your state may have timelines and stipulations such as 'Right to Cure' laws, which very much constrain your rights in this predicament.

If minor (fixable) problems arise during or soon after construction:

Try to resolve it with your contractor. He or she may make corrections willingly.

If the contractor is unwilling to correct problems to your satisfaction – Depending on how the conversation went, you may want to consider not creating too much flak at the moment. Instead, allow him to continue the job until your property has protection against the elements; but DON'T PAY HIM anymore. Remember, if he's not honorable enough to address your concerns, he may just walk off the job. You're playing the game now, but be prepared with evidence of his shoddiness, delays, or whatever – HE MIGHT FILE SUIT AGAINST YOU!

Should you reach an impasse, an architect, designer, or other professional who knows your project may be able to help broker an agreement. If such personal approaches do not work - send a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested; and ask the contractor for a written response. Outline the contract requirements you consider to be unfulfilled and stipulate a reasonable timeframe for compliance. Sometimes this is enough to inspire action. Follow any phone conversations (possibly tape them; check your state laws) with another certified letter with return receipt. That's your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy for your files.

There is another issue that you ought to take into account – MOLD. "For molds to grow and reproduce, they need a food source – any organic material, such as leaves, wood, paper, natural fabrics, or dirt – and moisture." So you have to ask yourself several questions. Is your project (drywall) exposed to the elements? What is the weather forecast? Are there any leaks and where are they? It's important to know that molds can begin growing within 24 to 48 hours of a water event; so stopping the flow of water and drying out materials, without delay, reduces the potential for mold growth. Drying is much more difficult, costly, and time-consuming if water leaks into an enclosed area (like the interior of a wall) where there is little chance for speedy evaporation; but it is imperative. So ask yourself, how much time should you allow your contractor to return or make repairs, before you start seeking advice or another contractor to protect your home? Granted, mold infestations are much more prevalent in the southern states; but dangerous, life threatening, molds are also found in the northern states.

Identifying Mold:
Mold growth on surfaces can often be seen as a colored spot, frequently green, gray, brown, black, or white. Actively growing molds typically produce odors, sometimes described as similar to mildew or ammonia.

If you suspect a serious problem with shoddy home construction:

Consider giving the company a chance to fix the problem to your satisfaction. You may have no choice anyway in those states with "Right to Cure" laws. But don't accept cosmetic repairs that will cause ongoing maintenance and / or structural decay, and don't let warranties or statutes expire while you wait.

– Remember, that if you fire a contractor who has essentially done the work as agreed, you are the one who will be found to have breached the contract. Make every effort then, to be explicit about the work to be done when drawing up a contract. What's more, a good contract will not only specify materials and standards for workmanship, but will also note how disputes should preferably be handled – possibly an independent mediator or arbitration. You should probably consult an attorney.

Still no luck? Don't give up now! Next, you should get some type of home inspection to verify the defects. You can either hire a private inspection service, a licensed engineer, or a local or state agency. Be careful in Texas – see 'Corrupt Establishment'. The National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers, www.nabie.org, can make a referral for an engineer. For a structural analysis, expect to pay $100 to $150 an hour.

No Cost Option: If you seriously question the quality or structural integrity of your project, consider contacting your local Code Enforcement Officer. Although building inspectors should not take sides, they should have an interest in ensuring that work is in accordance with building standards and codes. {You may create more difficulties by doing so, if you did not make sure that the contractor obtained the required building permit(s). The inspector may be duty-bound to cite you, the homeowner, for not getting a permit. Another possible quagmire - A new friend of mine had the proper permits in place and the necessary inspections. However, the inspector passed the work when it should have failed. When Western NYS Code Enforcement and Administration inspected and failed the work, policy dictated that he notify the municipality. The municipality then SUED my friend, because the homeowner is ultimately responsible. My friend had to hire an attorney to defend himself.}

Next, file complaints QUICKLY. The most effective way to complain about a contractor is to hit him where it hurts – go after his license, if your jurisdiction / state requires one. File a formal, written complaint with whatever agency may license or register contractors. It may be called something like: a contractor-licensing board, the home improvement commission, the board of contractors, or the department of licensing and regulation. Contractors have a strong incentive to maintain a clean record with the licensing board because some of these boards have the power to levy a fine or even revoke a license in cases involving serious negligence or incompetence. Speed is essential if you hope to get back any money; Fly-by-night contractors know to get out of sight quickly. A few states have special funds to reimburse you, at least partially, for unpaid judgments against licensed home improvement contractors.

You don't have to accept shoddy or unsafe work. However, if that is what you've got, you're in for a big hassle. I still haven't gotten resolution for my problems. That's why it's so important to be informed, to do your preparation before hiring a contractor, and so important to oversee the project.

File complaints with your state and local consumer-affairs departments, the Federal Trade Commission, and with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will forward your complaint to the contractor, who may consider your requests in order to avoid an unfavorable BBB report.

If both parties agree, you may decide to present your case before an impartial mediator or arbitrator ( not one that your contractor suggests ) in order to resolve the dispute informally.

You may want to take a serious look at the Better Business Bureau. The BBB offers several ways to resolve marketplace disputes using dispute resolution (DR). I, personally, can't vouch for their programs; but they promise that their dispute resolution process is "informal and user-friendly and it helps resolve thousands of complaints each year." Be very wary of anything called Arbitration, though, especially with any entity other than BBB. Arbitration is said to be much less costly and time-consuming than litigation; but Public Citizen authoritatively debunks that myth. ... "Arbitration costs much more than litigation – so much more that it becomes impossible to vindicate your rights." Also, an arbitrator's decision is usually binding.

"The BBB makes the results of its various dispute resolution programs publicly available in the belief that such transparency helps build trust and confidence in the quality and fairness of our services." On the other hand, I filed a complaint with BBB. They wrote to Eagle Construction; Eagle wrote back with an unacceptable rework offer that still did NOT meet NYS Building Codes or manufacturer specifications; BBB posted on Eagle's 'Business Review' page, "Company made good faith effort to Resolve." Whoop-de-do! As I said, I can't vouch for BBB's dispute resolution process.

File a complaint with your State Attorney General. However, State and Federal agencies are rarely able to act on behalf of individual consumers; complaints are used to document patterns of abuse that may allow the agency to take action against a business or contractor. So while it's important to file this complaint and there's a chance you'll collect, don't depend on it as a cure-all. The NYS Attorney General's office successfully sued Eagle Construction four years after I filed my complaint. November 2007, I won a judgment for $20,000; the total judgment for all 44 victims was $347,000 plus $30,000 in fines for NYS. NYS never bothered to collect for us, citing lack of resources to go after anything but "easy money".

Your complaints should include a complete description of the problem, the name, address, telephone number, and license number of the contractor. Be sure to furnish the agencies with copies (never send originals) of relevant documents, including:

Consider contacting the following organizations for further information and help:

Your state or local Builders Association and / or Remodelors Council
Your local Better Business Bureau
Local dispute resolution programs
Home Owners for Better Building, www.hobb.org
Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, www.hadd.com
Consumer Federation of America, http://www.consumerfed.org/
'If You Need Help' Contact Information and summaries of some helpful agencies

This USA.gov Website suggests that you consider checking into media programs. Local newspapers, TV, and radio stations often have Action Lines, consumer reporters, or Hotline services that try to resolve consumer complaints they receive.

Highlighted Resource:
Call for Action, Inc. (CFA) is a nonprofit network of consumer hotlines affiliated with local broadcast partners. Their hotlines are staffed by volunteer professionals, who are trained to assist consumers through mediation and education in order to resolve problems with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. Services are free, confidential, and available to individuals as well as small businesses. Go to www.callforaction.org for the most up-to-date list of offices (TV and radio affiliates). Consumers in locations not listed should call the Network Hotline at (240) 747-0225 or (240) 747-0229.

Most people don't file complaints – they figure, 'What's the use?' I say, file a simple complaint with everyone – Attorney General, Better Business Bureau, Better Contractor's Bureau, Consumer Protection Board, Chamber of Commerce, Federal Trade Commission, manufacturers, and any other memberships. In this situation, it's not the quality of the complaints; it's the quantity of complaints. Your complaints don't have to be long and complicated; they just have to be added to other peoples' complaints. You should file these complaints so that other innocent people will be able to see the true nature of your contractor, as they research contractors who they may possibly hire. You must file these complaints QUICKLY, before your contractor gets his or her lawyer(s) involved. Once lawyers are involved, consumer protection agencies may not want to touch it. The lady at New Jersey's Consumer Protection backed out of my case stating that both GAF and Eagle Construction had lawyers; and she could not go up against them, as she not a lawyer. So I guess that means that any company in New Jersey can get away with practically anything, as long as they retain a lawyer's services. Now that's out in the open, I suspect unscrupulous companies will flock to NJ. New Jersey should rethink their system pretty darn quick.

Report Legal Violations, Fraud, and Safety Hazards.

People who have no intention of delivering what is sold, who misrepresent items, send counterfeit goods, or otherwise try to trick you out of your money, are committing fraud.

If you suspect fraud or corruption while dealing with your contractor (or a lender), be sure file complaints with your state attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission, and possibly the police, and state or city office of banking.

"Reporting fraud promptly improves your chances of recovering what you have lost, and helps law enforcement authorities stop scams before others are victimized."

NYS has some penalties that can be used against Contractors: "A customer may sue for actual damages, plus a $500 penalty and reasonable attorneys' fees if the contractor has used fraudulent written statements to get the customer to sign the contract. The Attorney General is also authorized to go to court to stop illegal practices and order contractors to compensate defrauded customers. Contractors can also face $100 civil fines for violating the Home Improvement Contract Law, and fines from $250 to $2,500 for violating provisions of the law dealing with the protection of a customer's payments."

Violations of Federal laws should be reported to the Federal Agency responsible for enforcement.

The Bible tells us to protect those who can't protect themselves (Psalms 140) and to expose evil deeds (Ephesians 5:11-14). You can do both of these things by filing complaints!

As a last resort, consider retaining a lawyer who specializes in construction-defect lawsuits. It won't be easy to find one, as legal expertise and construction expertise can't usually cohabit in the same mind; but your local bar association may be able to help you find one. You may be able to sue the contractor (or a lender) using state or federal laws. Take it to Court? I don't advise it. You should review my page, "Our Legal System" before you decide to pay a lawyer big bucks.

Another suggestion you may want to try, no guarantees though: A friend-of-mine told me that his contract was not fulfilled; it contained a statement that his bathroom was to be handicap-accessible – it was not. He had not yet made the final payment. He contracted again with the same company to do the modifications to make the bathroom handicap-accessible (additional work). When that work is done, he plans to show this contractor the provisions stated in the first contract, and the cost of repairs already made. He will then claim that the second contract for the modifications is null and void. I don't know how it worked for him.

Binding Arbitration and Right-to-Cure, Is Your State Next? That is a very real threat!