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Theby's avatar

What happens if you see the fine print only after the job is done?

Asked by Theby (998points) May 20th, 2010

I hired someone to core drill a hole through a 1 metre steel inforced wall that used to be a bank vault. He said the job was straight forward and would cost $242. The job took 8 hours as the drill kept breaking down and had to be fixed plus the water pump was not working properly and flooded the place. On top of that, as the contractor was putting his gear away to leave he accidently pressed on a can of yellow aerosol paint and it went all over the vinyl that had just been laid the day before. We have tried removing the stain to no avail. The job finished at 2am and I signed the site form stating what had been done. Only after reading the small print the next day did I find a clause saying that all quotes are subject to change. They now want over $1000 for the job. Do I have any legal rights considering this paper was not given to me until after the job was done?

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14 Answers

Seaofclouds's avatar

Was the fine print on the form you signed? Was the amount of the bill on that form? Did the form you sign say anything about the amount of money you were agreeing to pay. Honestly, it all depends on what exactly was on the paper you signed. If the fine print and the $1000 were on the paper you signed and you just didn’t read it thoroughly, then it is on you. If none of that was on the paper you signed and instead you signed one paper and then were given the paper that says quotes may change and that they want $1000, you might have a legal arguement, but I’m not really sure.

perspicacious's avatar

I offer my personal opinion; not legal advice. If you were given a written estimate prior to the work being done that contained the clause along with the $242 estimated cost, you may have little to no recourse. However, a $242 estimate is so far from the billed $1000-plus that you could certainly argue that the estimate was not given in good faith. The contractor is insured and should replace anything he destroyed, such as a vinyl floor. If I were you, I would not communicate with the contractor verbally; I would write or email so that I would have a record of all communication until I resolved this.

Theby's avatar

@Seaofclouds The fine print was on the back of the “site form” which I signed. The site form had no amount written on it, just the job description and what was done. This paper is for the contractor (who did the job) to take back to the people who pay him (and whom we made the deal with.) To be honest, our quote was not written but a verbal agreement. But…...shouldn’t this form have been presented to me before the job was done? Thank you so much for your response.

Theby's avatar

Thank you, @perspicacious. Your information is also helpful.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Theby I think they should have let you know that while they were quoting you one amount, it could change in the event of unforeseen circumstances. I agree with @perspicacious that you should get everything in writing from this point on. If they don’t have an e-mail address, send them a letter through certified mail (so they have to sign for it) and get delivery confirmation (so you can prove they got it). For the future, remember that verbal agreements are worth the paper they’re written on. I would send them a letter letting them know that you never agreed to the higher amount and that no on ever told you that the quote could change. I would then go on to let them know about all the details of the job (like you did here). Tell them that you would like a response within a certain time frame and see what happens. Good luck!!

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Did you get more than one estimate? Is the $1000 out of line with the other estimates? Do they give any indication of estimated time and hourly rate in the original estimate?

Theby's avatar

@PandoraBoxx I got a couple of estimates that were also around the $250 mark. I chose the one I got because he could do the drilling the next day and the others could not. The one I got did not mention anything about hourly rates or estimated time.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

If his estimate was in line with the others, then I would ask for a detailed break-down of the cost overruns. When a form says “estimate subject to change” that provision is generally in there for situations where someone gets an estimate, then waits 6 months or more to actually get the work done, and something has changed about the terms of the job between the time of the estimate, and the actual work starting.

Once you have the estimate, I would pay him the original estimate amount, plus 20% for the extra time, plus the cost of the drill bits. Include “payment in full for services rendered per original estimate” on the check. Include 3 estimates for the repair of the damage with the paint, and ask that he compensate you for the damage he caused. If he’s a reputable contractor, he should have insurance to cover damage claims.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Having been on both ends of your dilemma (as a contractor facing ‘extra work’, ‘unforeseen conditions’ and accidents, and as someone who hires contractors who present such charges), here’s my advice:

1. The contractor doesn’t get an extra for failure of his equipment. If his drills and water pump break on what he already assured you would be a “routine” job, then that is all on him. (If he can make a case that the reinforced vault was not as you had specified to him, then he has the basis for a claim.) So along with the breakage of materials and tools, he’s not entitled to a claim for extra time expended because of that.

2. The accidents which occurred, including the minor flooding from the water pump breakage and the paint emission, are totally on him (and his insurer). In fact, you have a claim against him for the ruined vinyl.

3. When we have site representatives sign timesheets and work orders at the job site, we routinely rubber-stamp those “Signed for correctness of time only” so that there’s no doubt that the site rep is only signing to verify, “yes, these guys were here and did thus and so”. Your site rep is normally not going to sign on to “terms and conditions”, so you may have a fight on your hands there.

If it goes to court it will cost both of you more than the cost of the claim. Negotiate a settlement with him and both of you can walk away with your heads up.

john65pennington's avatar

Please pardon my example, but this is like having sex without protection. you signed the agreement and apparently did not read the fine print. this is where they have you. if the signed form was dated, then its binding and will stand in court.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I need to amend my previous response with an even more fundamental one:

“How the work was contracted” is important. If it was quoted as “fixed firm price”, then the only (typical) extras that the contractor can claim for are delays caused by others (you had him start the project, and then told him to “hold up while…” [anything]) and the “unforeseen conditions” that I alluded to earlier: you told him this would be “reinforced steel in a former bank vault” for example, but you didn’t tell him that it was buried under a hundred feet of rubble, at the bottom of the ocean, that there was poison gas inside the vault, etc. His costs to deal with “unforeseen conditions” are potential claims against you. (Most ‘fixed firm’ contracts have language that expressly states that the contractor is responsible for inspecting the job to know what he has to do. The only ‘unforeseen’ extras he can claim for then are the things that neither of you could have known about: the bank vault filled with poison gas, for example, that causes a work stoppage, amelioration efforts to deal with the poison gas (asbestos is a good example here) and continuing work with elaborate safety gear, for example, that wasn’t specified (or expected) in the contract.

But a lot of work of this type is bid on a “T&M” basis: “time and materials”. The contractor may have told you that “it should take x hours and cost y dollars” ... but it takes what it takes. If you agreed to a T&M contract (which is common for the sake of expediency—that way the contractor doesn’t have to inspect the whole project to give you a “fixed firm” estimate), but you take the risk of overruns from “stuff happening” ... and some contractors are not too diligent about monitoring the time of the job in these cases, since they expect to be reimbursed for “whatever it takes”.

I should have pointed that out earlier, because your “bid basis” was not clear. This is important. (This is why most construction contracts are written out, so there’s no vagueness or ambiguity as to terms.)

Have a talk with the contractor and split the difference. In terms of most contracting, even though his charges are approximately 4X what you expected, the actual dollar amount is small. If he wants to maintain you as a customer he’ll shave some off the bill, and if you want to be able to call him for small spot jobs like this in the future, you have to expect that he’s not going to work at a loss for you. If you go to court then you both lose.

Theby's avatar

@john65pennington, I didn’t sign an agreement. I signed a site form which was for the contractor to show his boss that the job had been done. No figures were on the site form. Just the job description and the time it took.

Theby's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I told the site manager exactly what I wanted done: that the wall was 900 centimetres thick, it was an old bank vault and it was reinforced with steel and he said, ”$220, plus GST.” There was nothing said about “fixed firm price.” There were no unforseen conditions ergo the driller didn’t need extra safety gear or whatever. I am aware that the actual dollar amount is small but he should have said to me at the time that his quote could be subject to time and equipment changes. I hope this makes sense to you as it is morning and I have been up all night. The last paragraph of your answer makes a lot of sense. I will try and cut a deal with him. Also, the driller did accidently spray the wall, counter and new vinyl flooring that had just been laid earlier in the day. I was able to remove the paint from the counter and wall but the vinyl is now stained. Thanks again for taking so much time to help me.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

You’re very welcome, @Theby. Good luck on a satisfactory resolution (for both of you).

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