Home Repair Contractors (Script 409)
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If you own your own home, chances are that eventually you’ll want to do some repairs or renovations. Unless you have the time and skill to do the job yourself, you’ll be hiring someone to do it.
- 1 Find out if you need a building permit
- 2 Get cost estimates
- 3 How do you choose a contractor?
- 4 Get a written contract
- 5 Make sure any promises or guarantees are in the written contract
- 6 What about the contract price and payment?
- 7 What other things should be in the contract?
- 8 What should you watch out for?
- 9 What about builders lien holdbacks?
- 10 What should you do if you’re unhappy with the work?
- 11 What if you have to sue?
Find out if you need a building permit
Before you start any home repair project, check with your city or town hall to see if you need a building permit. If you plan to do major work, you may want to hire an architect to supervise the contractor’s work and materials. Any work requiring a permit must be inspected by the city when the project is finished, so be sure you understand what standards of construction and safety you have to meet. If you live in a condominium, also check the bylaws of the strata corporation to find out if your intended project is allowed, whether you need the strata corporation’s approval, and if there are any restrictions.
Get cost estimates
Get more than one estimate, and get them in writing. Most contractors will give a free estimate. You should also ask for each estimate to set out clearly the work to be done and the cost of materials and labour, so you know what you’re getting for the money. Remember the 7% GST and 5% PST. Make sure the contractor includes these taxes in the price.
How do you choose a contractor?
One thing to consider is the cost estimates that potential contractors give you. But that’s not all you should consider. Don’t automatically choose the lowest estimate—make sure you get the workmanship and quality of materials you want.
Ask friends if they can recommend a good contractor. Ask contractors for the names and phone numbers of people they’ve worked for in the past—and check them out. The Better Business Bureau can tell you if there have been any complaints about a contractor. Also, some trades must be licensed or certified by provincial or municipal authorities; others have voluntary organizations that set standards. So look in the phone book to find the appropriate authority or organization—or do an internet search—and then call and verify the status of the contractor you’re considering. You should also ask the contractor to give you the names of any sub-trades that they may use on your project—plumbers, electricians, and others—and check them out too. Internet searches will often show user reviews of contractors, which may be helpful.
Get a written contract
Once you choose a contractor, put your agreement in writing. Don’t use just an oral agreement and a handshake. An oral contract is legal, but it’s hard to prove exactly what you both agreed to. A written contract will help you sort out any misunderstandings right from the start.
Make sure any promises or guarantees are in the written contract
If your contractor makes a promise or a guarantee, include it in your written contract. In some cases, the law will imply certain terms that aren’t written down, for example, that the work will be done properly and that the materials used are the proper ones. But in every case, your best protection is a clear written contract.
What about the contract price and payment?
One of the terms in your contract will be the contract price and how you are going to pay it. Unless the job is small, you will likely want a definite price based on a written estimate, rather than an hourly rate that may add up to far more than you want to pay. Also, don’t make a large deposit or pay a lot in advance. You don’t want to end up paying more than the value of the work and materials you receive. Instead, it’s a good idea to pay in installments, as the work progresses. The contract should say that you will make installment payments, and when you will make them. Do a title search of your property to make sure no builders liens have been filed against it by the contractor or any sub-trade or supplier—before you make the final payment.
What other things should be in the contract?
Be sure to clearly express any time deadlines your contractor must meet and what happens if they’re not met. As for materials and supplies, remember to put in your contract that you’ll pay only for materials used, not for all materials purchased—in case the contractor buys too much. The contractor should also agree to give you receipts for all materials bought. And you should verify them.
What should you watch out for?
Be careful of home repair contractors who go door-to-door or ask for a lot of money up front. If you think you’ve been unfairly pressured by a door-to-door salesperson or contractor, you may be able to get out of the contract if you act quickly. To learn more about this, check script 255, called “Door-to-Door Sales, Time-Shares and Contracts You Can Cancel”.
Also, if your contractor tries to charge much more than the estimate, they may be guilty of a deceptive practice under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. If this happens, check script 260, called “Dishonest Business Practices and Schemes”. But if you keep changing your mind about what you want done or what materials you want, you should expect to pay more than the original estimate.
What about builders lien holdbacks?
The provincial Builders Lien Act requires you to hold back 10% of the contract price, or 10% of each installment payment, for 55 days after the work has been substantially (or mostly) done. This is your protection against claims by subcontractors or suppliers who may not have received their share of the payments you made to the contractor. As long as you hold back 10%, you won’t have to pay any more than that to subcontractors and suppliers. To find out more about builders liens, check script 268, called “Builders Liens”.
What should you do if you’re unhappy with the work?
Once the work has started, if you don’t like what’s being done, say so right away. The easiest and cheapest way to solve a problem is to talk it over with the contractor first—it could be a simple misunderstanding. Also, put your complaint in writing to the contractor. If the work still isn’t satisfactory, you may have to end the contract and order the contractor off the job. Then if you can’t solve the problem by negotiations, you might have to sue.
What if you have to sue?
If your claim is for $25,000 or less, or you’re willing to reduce your claim to $25,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. To learn more about this, check scripts 165 to 169 on Small Claims Court. As well, check the following court websites for more information:
- www.provincialcourt.bc.ca – click on “About the Court” and then on “Small Claims Matters”.
Generally, if you are suing for more than $25,000, you must do that in a higher court (BC Supreme Court), where you’ll want a lawyer.
[updated November 2015]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Nathan Ganapathi and edited by John Blois.
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