Suing the Contractor in Small Claims Court
Q. I paid a contractor $10,000 for a renovation to my house that was supposed to be completed months ago. He has done minimal work and every time I ask him to finish he gives me another excuse. Is this a case for Small Claims Court?
It depends on what you would be trying to accomplish in Small Claims Court. If your objective is to get a judgment from the court in which the contractor is ordered to finish working on your house, then this is not a case for Small Claims Court. This is because the Small Claims Court is limited in jurisdiction. Essentially, the only type of relief one can seek from the Small Claims Court is either for an award of money or recovery of personal property. One cannot get an order forcing someone to do or refrain from doing something, otherwise known as injunctive relief. Such orders may only be obtained from higher court.
However, what you can do in Small Claims Court in this case is sue for a refund of the money you spent on this contractor. To do so, you should ensure to do the following:
Put your demands in writing.
If you were to go straight to Small Claims Court for a refund, the contractor may deny that you gave him a chance to complete the renovation. Therefore, even if you verbally demanded that he return to your house on several occasions, put it in writing to the contractor. Note, it need not be something as formal as a letter sent by registered mail. It can be something as simple as an email to him.
Get a quote from another contractor.
In Small Claims Court a judge will want to know the value of the work the contractor completed to date. Of course, this may be offset by the delay you have been caused by his failure to complete the renovation in time but nevertheless you can expect the contractor to claim that you should not get a complete refund because of the work completed to date. Therefore, in order to know 100% what the value of his work was, you should get a quote from at least one other contractor showing how much money is left to be spent. So, for instance, if the second contractor quotes you at $9,000 to complete the renovation, then arguably the contractor you suing should be credited for $1,000 in renovations he provided, again subject to you demonstrating damages caused by the delay. This quote should then be filed as evidence for your lawsuit.
Often in contractor disputes, the contractor you are suing will attempt to claim that the work performed by the second contractor is actually work he performed! Therefore, in order to have demonstrable evidence of what each contractor did, you should take photographs prior to the second contractor completing the renovation to your home. Then, once you have the photographs which I assume are digital, you should email them to yourself in order to prove when the photographs were taken. When going to court, these photographs (along with the email showing when they were taken) should be filed as evidence.
Overall, you should have a good lawsuit for damages in Small Claims Court, but it is important to take the necessary steps leading up to your lawsuit to ensure you are prepared and have the requisite evidence to prove your case.
The information herein should not be taken as legal advice and may have been changed since published. Do not treat information provided in the article as a recommendation to act or refrain from taking action, or as legal advice. The information provided is not a substitute for the assistance of a licensed legal advisor.
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