Home & Garden

Reno guide: How to handle problems with contractors

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Reno guide: How to handle problems with contractors

You've hired a licensed contractor. A well-written contract is the best guarantee that your dream home renovation will end up a reality, but difficulties may still arise. Here are the Top 5 most common challenges in the contractor relationship and resolution advice from the experts.
1. Leaving messages without getting any response.
"Give them a deadline and a reason for that deadline," suggests Douglas Thomson. For example: "We're planning to take the shingles off the roof on Sunday. I need you to let me know whether you'll be starting on Monday, or whether I should wait longer." Foster on-site discussions in simple ways: ask what the contractor needs, such as parking or a time to shut off the water. Save up questions and handle several things at once. Make morning coffee so everyone has a reason to pause and chat.
2. Unreasonable work site mess.
Dust and disruption are normal, but you have the right to ask for the work site to be left tidy, with loose nails collected and tools unplugged, and to request that workers remove boots to walk through the house. "Communicate your expectations at the beginning; that's when you have the most leverage," says Thomson. Ask who will be your contractor's site supervisor (that person will handle communications with any subcontractors). If problems arise, schedule a sit-down conversation to discuss them. If workers cause damage, your primary contractor is responsible for cleaning or repairs.

3. Know who should handle permits.
Valuable time can be wasted by confusion about acquiring permits. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the homeowner is the one who ensures the work conforms to bylaws. The contractor is responsible for insurance and warranties. Some homeowners acquire the permits, but, says Tom Cordeiro, founder of eRenovate.com, 'It's better to have the company apply; if you don't have the answers, it could delay the process."

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to talk to your contractor when dealing with unexpected costs and unfinished work on page 2
4. Unexpected changes in cost.
Older Homes inevitably present unexpected quirks. With larger jobs, contractors should be expected to prepare a "change order," which is a written explanation of major unexpected developments, with costs, for you to approve and sign. If a serious dispute arises, you may turn to an architect or a construction arbitrator to resolve it. As a last resort, you may cancel your contract if you have included a termination clause.

5. Work left in an unfinished state.
Hold back a portion of payment until the work is complete. When the whole job is finished, your contractor should ask you to sign a certificate of completion. Don't sign it until you and the inspectors are satisfied with the work. If a licensed contractor fails to honour contractual agreements, report them to your region's licensing authority. Notify your local homebuilders' association, too, says Stephen Dupuis, CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association. "We are not going to be arbitrators," says Dupuis, "but in extreme circumstances, we're going to bring our efforts to bear."

Money Talk
Holdbacks – set amounts of the overall cost of the job temporarily withheld as insurance against contractor complaints – help protect you as a homeowner. Here are three types.
• A Seasonal or Delivery Holdback is in case work is delayed due to weather or unavailable supplies.
• A Deficiency Holdback is to make sure contractors stick around until you're satisfied the job is finished.
• Legally required, a Builders Lien Holdback protects owners from liens placed against the property. The percentage of the bill held back is determined by provincial law, so check with your building authority.

Check it out
www.renomark.ca to find contractors recommended by homebuilders' associations.
www.eRenovate.com offers your project to member contractors whose credentials have been verified.
www.cmhc.ca/en/co/renoho has a fact sheet about hiring a contractor and a sample contract.

This story was originally titled "Contractor Dilemmas" in the June 2008 issue.

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Reno guide: How to handle problems with contractors