Receiving Unsatisfactory Services (Script 258)
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This script discusses what you can do if you buy services that are unsatisfactory.
- 1 When you buy and receive a service, you are making a contract
- 2 The terms of a contract can be express or implied
- 3 Guarantees and warranties are common express terms
- 4 By law, certain implied terms apply to all service contracts in BC
- 5 Express terms are best
- 6 Make sure you have a written contract
- 7 Don’t pay for the services in cash
- 8 What about repair estimates?
- 9 What about charges for unnecessary services or services never performed?
- 10 Professionals have organizations you can complain to about poor service
- 11 Other occupations also have organizations you can complain to
- 12 In some cases, you may be able to sue
- 13 Remember, complain promptly
- 14 More information
When you buy and receive a service, you are making a contract
Your contract is with the person or company who provides the service. (If a person is an employee of a company, your contract is with the company only.) Your rights and obligations depend on BC law and the terms of the contract. A contract does not need to be in writing. It can be a verbal contract.
The terms of a contract can be express or implied
- An express term is one that you and the service provider agreed on—either verbally or in writing, or both. A term is binding only if you have a contract.
- An implied term is one that the law says is part of a contract, even though you haven’t discussed it with the service provider.
Guarantees and warranties are common express terms
Look carefully at guarantees and warranties in your purchase contract. For example, a painter might guarantee that your house won’t need repainting for five years. But guarantees and warranties are often so vague, or buried in so many qualifications, that they may not be worth anything to you. If the service provider makes any promises or guarantees, get them in writing—before you sign the contract—and make sure you understand any limits on them. If your painter, for example, has a standard guarantee that excludes brickwork, and you don’t like that, discuss it. If the painter says, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll guarantee your brickwork too”, don’t just accept that. Change the term in the contract to say the guarantee includes brickwork, and get the painter to initial the change.
By law, certain implied terms apply to all service contracts in BC
These implied terms are that the service provider must:
- use reasonable care.
- do the work in a “proper and workmanlike manner”.
- use materials of reasonable quality.
So, if you hire someone to perform a service for you, and the person performs the service poorly, you can sue the person for breaking an implied term of the contract, even if you had no written agreement and didn’t talk about the quality of service.
Express terms are best
To avoid misunderstandings and arguments, it’s best to have express terms, not implied terms. Implied terms are broad, and different people can interpret them to mean different things. So if it’s important that the job be done by a certain date, set the date. If you don’t, the service provider only has to get the job done within a reasonable time. And that may be longer than you want. Also, include in the contract what will happen if the service provider doesn’t live up to the contract.
Make sure you have a written contract
Oral contracts are much harder to prove, so make sure your agreement is in writing—especially if it involves a lot of money. Even though an oral contract is legal, it can be very hard to prove. It can also lead to misunderstandings about what you and the other side expect.
Make sure that the written contract has all the terms that are important to you, and don’t leave any term in the contract just because it’s a standard term. If a term doesn’t apply to you, cross it out, initial the change and get the other side to initial the change too.
Emails can help to prove the terms of a contract. For example, if you said in an email something like, “As we discussed…” and if you can prove the other side received the email, and didn’t dispute it, it might help a court decide on the terms of the contract.
Don’t pay for the services in cash
If you pay cash, you’ll have no evidence that you paid the service provider, and no recourse if there’s a problem.
What about repair estimates?
There’s no guarantee that a final price will be the same as the price in a written repair estimate. The estimated and final prices can differ, but the difference should be fair and reasonable. Courts have found that a difference of 5% to 20% from an estimate is reasonable. Generally, an estimate for a cost-plus contract can differ more than an estimate for a fixed-price contract,
If you want to rely on an estimate, it must be part of the service contract. An estimate is less likely to apply if there were significant changes or increases to the work and you agreed to them. But a repair person cannot charge for work the estimate does not include, unless you consent to it. An estimate won’t apply if you did not rely on it before proceeding, or if there were unforeseen circumstances beyond the estimator’s control. On the other hand, an estimate is more likely to apply if a you relied on it before deciding to proceed or if it was undervalued to get your business.
But if you have a dispute with a person, you may have to pay the bill first and go to court later. That’s because some repair people can put a “repairer’s lien” on the thing they repaired and keep it until you pay the bill. Or, the repairperson can sell the item to pay for the repairs.
What about charges for unnecessary services or services never performed?
Sometimes a service provider may charge you for services that weren’t necessary or that were never performed. This may violate the provincial Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. If you suspect this, contact Consumer Protection BC at 1.888.564.9963 (toll-free).
Professionals have organizations you can complain to about poor service
If you got poor service from a professional such as a doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant or dentist, try to solve the problem first by talking to the person. If this doesn’t work, go to the organization for that profession. For example, for lawyers, go to The Law Society of British Columbia. For doctors, go to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. Professional organizations have discipline committees that review complaints from the public, and they may be able to help you. If you don’t know the name of the organization or where to locate it, ask another member of the same profession.
Other occupations also have organizations you can complain to
Real estate agents, travel agents and car dealers must be licensed or certified by provincial or municipal authorities. Other occupations have voluntary organizations—the Canadian Association of Movers, for example. If you aren’t satisfied after complaining to the service provider, you should contact these authorities or organizations. For example, for automobile dealer complaints, contact the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia. For complaints dealing with realtors’ services, contact the Real Estate Council of BC.
In some cases, you may be able to sue
If you’ve been the victim of professional malpractice or poor workmanship and have suffered some loss or injury, you may want to sue for negligence or breach of contract. For more information on professional malpractice, check script 420 on “Medical Malpractice” or script 436 entitled “If You Have a Problem with Your Lawyer”. But if you’re thinking of suing, you should speak with a lawyer.
Remember, complain promptly
If you buy a service that turns out to be unsatisfactory, complain about it promptly. Get legal advice early, if necessary. Keep good records. And always correspond in writing, so you have a record of what was said.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau. They may suggest mediation or arbitration as informal ways to resolve your dispute. You and the service provider must both agree to this. With mediation, a third-party mediator helps both sides reach a solution. With arbitration, an arbitrator hears both sides of the story and then makes a decision that is legally binding. The phone number for the Better Business Bureau for mainland BC is 604.682.2711. The Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau is at 250.386.6348.
- Check with Consumer Protection BC. It has a list of resources and links for consumers. You can also phone Consumer Protection BC at 1.888.564.9963 for help.
- If the services you bought aren’t defective, but they don’t live up to the glowing promises made by the service provider, check script 260 on “Dishonest Business Practices and Schemes”.
[updated October 2017]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Mona Muker and Dean Davison, and edited by John Blois.
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