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What You Can Do If You’re Unhappy With Your Contractor’s Work

By Mark Di Vincenzo

Mark Di Vincenzo is a journalist with 24 years of experience and a New York Times best-selling author. Mark blogs via

Anyone who has watched more than a few episodes of People’s Court or one of the other court TV shows knows the importance of “getting it in writing” when you hire someone to do work for you.

A signed contract – even if it is written on a napkin in crayon – is better than an oral contract or no agreement at all when you and a contractor are arguing about something. A signed contract that spells out the work to be done, the price, the timeline and the desired result protects the customer and the contractor.

But, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t bother getting it in writing and end up in disputes with contractors that can get really ugly.

If this is you and you realize the guy you hired has done shoddy work, here is what you should do:

Be realistic. As a customer, you want everything to be perfect. That’s not always a reasonable expectation. More reasonable expectations revolve around functionality and safety. If it’s a plumbing job, does the toilet flush the way it should? Is the faucet leaking? If you hired someone to rewire your house, was the work done safely? Does the painter’s work look good, or is the wall paint all over the trim? Also, determine whether you had something to do with what you consider to be unsatisfactory results. Did you pick out the neon pink paint that you now hate on your bedroom walls? Did you hire an electrician, knowing beforehand that he is not licensed?

Get a second opinion. Maybe you are a perfectionist. If you are, ask a friend or a neighbor — someone whose opinion you respect — for his honest opinion of the work. If your neighbor said he would be satisfied with it, maybe you are being too tough on the contractor. If he said the work is lacking…

Refuse to pay. If you are non-confrontational, this may be a very difficult thing for you to do. But it probably is the best thing for you to do. If you fork over the money for shoddy work, good luck getting it back without a trip to small claims court.

Get some help. If your contractor demands to be paid – or even if he doesn’t – contact the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies ( and ask how to file a formal complaint. The group may refer you to your state’s consumer protection agency, which may suggest some form of mediation, or it may conduct an investigation.

If you unknowingly hired an unqualified contractor or someone who just did bad work, you may not have to pay the guy you hired. The bad news is you may have to pay another contractor more money to make things right.