WATCHING YOUR CONTRACTORS
© Copyright 2014 Landlord.com
By Bob Cain
Copyright 2005 Cain Publications, Inc.,used by permission
Landlord Pete knew that the back
porch was really rickety on that duplex over in the north end. Since
he wasn't a skilled enough carpenter to do the job right, he knew he was
going to have to pay someone to do it. Problem was, he didn't know
whom to call.
ads in the newspaper always have people who want odd jobs, so he looked
there. Joe, an all-around handyman who worked cheap, had one that
really caught his eye.. The cheap part really appealed to Pete, so he
Pete left a
message for Joe on his answering machine, and Joe called back the
following evening. Not the best sign in the world, especially since
he didn't even offer an explanation for his taking so long to return the
call. He did say that he could come over to the duplex in the
morning, though. Pete set an appointment for 10 o'clock.
Pete was there a
little before 10, and at 10 Joe wasn't there. Since he had some work
to do anyway, he putzed with that while he waited for Joe. A little
after 10:30 he put in an appearance. Another bad sign, since he again
offered no explanation or apology for being late. Pete suspected
that Joe might have had a drink or two already.
Pete took Joe to
look at the back porch. He poked around a little, actually noticed
the dry rot, wiggled and prodded a few other things, and said
Boy, did that
ever sound reasonable. Pete asked him when he could get started and
how long it would take.
"Oh, I can
start this afternoon. Should be finished by 5 or 6."
Pete had heard
that everyone who works on a property should be licensed, bonded and
insured, so he asked Joe if he had a license from the state contractors
board. Then the tirade began.
is just trying to put the small guy out of business! What a ripoff!
Yeah, the big guys can afford all that license and bonding stuff, but us
little guys have to watch every penny. Do you know how much it costs
to get a license and all that from the state?" Without waiting
for Pete to admit that he didn't, he told him, "They want over a
thousand dollars. Then the bond is another few hundred. Then
there are a bunch of other picky rules.
"If I got
all that, I'd have to raise my rates so you small guys couldn't afford
Not wanting to
set him off any more, Pete began thinking, how much can he mess up a
Pete told him he
could do the job.
About 5:30 he
called to say the job was done. Pete drove over to check it out.
It seemed to look okay, but what did Pete know, he was no carpenter.
Joe didn't say much, so Pete had to investigate the work without any
guidance. The job looked neat and tidy.
where it used to wiggle, and it didn't. He prodded where it used to
be soft and it wasn't. He poked where a screwdriver used to go right
into the wood, and it didn't. Joe hadn't stained the new wood, but
Pete hadn't asked him to and he could do that anyway.
Pete paid Joe off
and thanked him for a fast, efficient job.
A couple of weeks
later Pete got a letter from an attorney. It said that one of the
tenants in the duplex had the newly repaired porch collapse under him,
causing him to fall down, break his arm and dislocate his shoulder.
The injury meant he would miss at least a month of work, plus he had the
hospital and doctor bills to pay. The letter from the attorney
demanded that Pete pay $5,000 for the damages.
Pete goes into
shock. Immediately he called Joe's phone number. Disconnected.
Pete then called
his attorney and told him the situation. He said he would check into
it. Pete called his insurance agent. He told Pete that he
wasn't covered. Ideally, Pete should have had an umbrella policy
that would protect him from problems such as this, but he had decided he
didn't need one.
A few hours later
Pete's attorney got back to him. His news was far from good.
Joe, it turns out, had had his contractor’s license revoked and his bond
used up because of other shoddy work he'd done. There was no listing
for him with the phone company and the ad wasn't in the paper any more.
attorney explained the facts of life to him. Sure, if they can find
him, they can sue Joe, probably get a judgment, and probably never
collect. Pete, as the person who hired Joe, though, was ultimately
responsible for any damage or injury that came about as a result of his
work. Pete's options are to pay up now or go to court, where he will
surely lose and have to pay not only for the injury to the tenant and his
lost wages, but also court costs. "Settle while you can,"
suggested the lawyer.
No, this story is
not an actual case, even one where the names have been changed to protect
the foolish and miserly. However, the facts of the case fit exactly
what has happened to too many landlords. Trying to save $10, they
put themselves at risk for losing thousands.
experienced landlords usually have regular contractors they use for
repairs and maintenance on their rental properties. They know the
work these folks do will never result in a tenant or a tenant's guest
being injured and will always look and be professional.
But think about
this: even if there were no injuries of any kind, the entire situation of
landlord Pete begs the question, what kind of job can you expect from an
inexperienced, incompetent or careless contractor? It is simply bad
business to allow people to work on your investments who will not do a
At some time in
the future you may want to sell the property. Sloppily done work is
usually obvious. If you look at much property, you can spot it in an
fetches a sloppy price at best, the wrong end of a judgment at worst.
When you are looking for a
1. Ask for a certificate of insurance.
2. Ask for references of most recent work.
3. Get an estimate in writing.
4. Check with the Better Business Bureau.
5. Have a signed contract from both parties.
6. Schedule a specific time for a meeting to discuss the work.
7. Explain all your needs and expectations to prospective contractors up
8. Make sure that all questions are answered to your satisfaction.
9. Quiz contractors and expect detailed answers.
10. Ask a contractor to show permits if necessary.
1. Begin work without a signed written estimate.
2. Hire a contractor based on price alone.
3. Pay for a contract in full up front.
4. Be afraid to ask questions at any stage.
5. Be intimidated by overbearing contractors.
6. Pull any permits when hiring a contractor; this is the contractor’s
7. Forget the contractor is working for you.
8. Take advantage of the contractor.
9. Hire a contractor you feel uncomfortable about.
10. Allow additional work without a written change order.
Cain is a nationally-recognized speaker and writer on property management
and real estate issues. For a free sample copy of the Rental Property
Reporter call 800-654-5456 or visit their web site at