Receiving Unsatisfactory Services (No. 258)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Mona Muker, Maple Law Group, and Dean Davison, Davison Law Group in October 2017.|
You hire a roofer to install a new roof on your home. A week later, the new shingles begin to fall off. Learn your rights if you receive unsatisfactory services.
Understand your legal rights
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 agreement.
The terms of a contract can be express or implied
An express term is one 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 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 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.
Certain implied terms apply to all service contracts in BC
Under the law, certain terms are implied into all service contracts. 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 include express terms in your contract. 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.
If the service is unsatisfactory
If you buy a service that turns out to be unsatisfactory, complain about it promptly. Keep records of what you say. Correspond in writing, so you have a clear record of what was said.
If you’re not happy with the work done by someone you’ve hired, see People’s Law School’s information at peopleslawschool.ca, which includes tips and a template letter to send to the service provider.
Do I need a written contract?
It’s always best to have a written contract, especially if a lot of money is involved. Even though a verbal agreement is a legal contract, it can be much harder to enforce than a written agreement. It can also lead to misunderstandings about what you and the other side expect.
Make sure the written contract has all the terms that are important to you. Don’t leave terms in the contract just because they are “standard terms”. 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 in cash for services. If you pay cash, you’ll have no evidence you paid the service provider, and no recourse if there’s a problem.
What if I received poor service from a professional?
If you received poor service from a professional — such as a doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant or dentist — first try solving the problem by talking with them directly.
Complain to the professional body
If talking with the professional doesn’t work, go to the organization that oversees 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.
Other occupations also have organizations you can complain to
Real estate agents, travel agents, and car dealers must be licensed or certified by provincial 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, to complain about a car dealer, contact the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC. To complain about a realtor, contact the Real Estate Council of BC.
If you don’t know the name of the organization or where to locate it, ask another member of the same profession.
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, see our information on medical malpractice (no. 420) or if you have a problem with your lawyer (no. 436). If you’re thinking of suing, it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer.
Can I rely on an estimate from a service provider?
An estimate is a business’ best guess as to how much certain work will cost. There’s no guarantee a final price for services will be the same as the price in an estimate. The estimated and final prices can differ, but the difference should be fair and reasonable. Courts have found differences of 5% to 20% from an estimate to be reasonable.
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. 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 you relied on it before deciding to proceed or if it was undervalued to get your business.
If you are getting repair work done, a repair person cannot charge for work the estimate does not include, unless you consent to it. If you have a dispute with the repair 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 item they repaired and keep the item until you pay the bill. Or, the repair person can sell the item to pay for the repairs.
What about charges for unnecessary services?
Sometimes a service provider may charge you for services that weren’t necessary. Under BC law, a business is not allowed to use "unfair practices". Unfair practices include when a business does something that is not right or reasonable (this is called “unconscionable”). An example would be if a business takes advantage of any vulnerabilities you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any disability or language difficulties. If a business does something “unconscionable”, any agreement you signed is not binding on you.
If you suspect this, contact Consumer Protection BC at 1-888-564-9963 (toll-free).
Agencies that can help
Consumer Protection BC provides assistance relating to certain types of consumer problems and contracts in BC, including future performance contracts and direct sales contracts (such as door-to-door contracts).
- Toll-free: 1-888-564-9963
- Web: consumerprotectionbc.ca
The Better Business Bureau assists people in finding businesses they can trust.
- Web: bbb.org/ca/bc
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