Tips to Homeowners

Question: About a month ago, I signed a $5,000-plus contract with a plumbing contractor to put new plumbing fixtures in my master bedroom. He got about halfway through the project, and I have been unable to get him back to complete it. What actions should I take to either get the job satisfactorily completed or get some sort of restitution?

Answer: I advise taking the following steps as the most economic way for you to pursue this situation:

Send the contractor a letter that states the basis of your complaint, such as that the contract had been entered into, whether it was oral or written, and that the material had or had not been delivered to the job site. Further, I would state that the work had been more or less abandoned, and ask that the contractor proceed with the work as soon as possible.

At the same time, send copies of the letter and the contract to the local office of the Contractors' State License Board and advise the contractor that you have done so.

If the contractor does not respond within 10 days, ask the license board to send you the formal complaint forms. I also would send a copy of this letter to the contractor.

What you are trying to do is to get the person to cooperate and do the work. Any type of legal action consumes both your time and energy and is not worth the effort if you can get satisfaction otherwise.

If another 10 or 20 days have elapsed and you have not had any cooperation from the contractor, file a formal complaint with the license board and request the contractor's license number, bond number and bond carrier. I would also send the contractor copies of your correspondence.

If you still have no success with the contractor, notify the bonding company of your situation. The bonding company will probably send you a questionnaire. Basically, a contractor abandoning the job is not covered under the bond. However, the bonding company will usually make an attempt to apply pressure on the contractor to resolve the problem.

If you still have no satisfaction, go to small claims court to gain as much restitution as possible.

Fontaine is president of the Western Regional Master Builders Assn. and a director of the American Building Contractors Assn. He will answer questions concerning home improvements. Phone 213/653-4084 or write him at 6404 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 850, Los Angeles 90048-5510.

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