Legal experts advise how to avoid contractor rip-offs

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — Contractor rip-offs and shoddy work cost consumers millions of dollars each year.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers see everything from landscape disasters to abandoned construction projects.  Choosing wisely and obtaining a legally sound contract are crucial to avoiding nightmarish conflicts that can cost time and money.

Rochelle Martinez tells the Problem Solvers, her HVAC repair company left her high and dry when pipes started flooding and carbon monoxide started leaking.  She had agreed to pay $10,600 for the job.

“No response back from him telling him we’ve got this leak what’s going on … they were just negligent all around,” she said.

Martinez disputed the charges with her credit card company then found the business wasn’t licensed.  She says the contractor eventually showed up and finished the repairs.

“I felt used and betrayed,” she said.

The Robinson and Henry law firm has five offices across the Front Range, all targeting bad contractors.

Attorney Don Eby tells FOX31 “if there’s a written contract, well that’s totally one-sided towards the contractor so we need to balance that out.”

Eby says your contract should clearly spell out standards for the quality of work, include a completion timeline and rules for how disputes will be handled including who pays for legal fees.

“In Colorado, in contracts like this, unless you have an attorney fee provision in the contract you can’t collect your attorney fees most times,” he said.

Eby explains that consumers should consider the severity of a loss if not protected by this important clause.

“Even though the contractor may have damaged you for $10,000 you have no attorney fee provision, you spend $5,000 on attorneys, you don’t get that money back as part of your judgment,” he said. 

Legal experts and consumer advocates agree that paying a contractor the total amount of money upfront is never a good idea.

“They give the contractor three, four, five, $10,000 for materials and then you never see the guy again,” Eby said.

Consumer experts say paying with your credit card offers added protection. Get at least three references and check the Secretary of State’s website to make sure the business is registered.

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