Resolving unfinished contractor work

Of course, when all goes well with your vendor remedies become unnecessary. However, occasions arise when you are faced with engaging with an unresponsive, incapable, or unreliable professional. If you paid upfront for the repair refrain from legal action, initially. Baron suggests landlords employ the following remedies in an effort to minimize unnecessary lost time and money.

  1. Immediately search and hire a new contractor. This puts you in control of the situation and may have the unintended result of shaming the first contractor. Hiring 2 contractors for the same job simultaneously (for example to see which one arrives first, or produces a higher quality estimate) is a good problem to have. Landlords can always thank the lower quality vendor saying they will keep them in mind for future work. Find and employ a 2nd vendor even if this is an insurance repair. The problem of resolving duplicate vendors outweighs stalled or poor-quality work.
  2. Don’t worry too much about the lost time, paying a second estimate, or even paying the full price to someone who is unresponsive. Cut your losses. Move on. Once the repair is completed, most jurisdictions have a 3-year property damage statute of limitations for legal recourse. (although I do not recommend civil litigation due to the high hassle costs. Yes, it hurts to lose money, but sometimes it is the cost of doing business.)
  3. Do the work yourself. YouTube, Hardware Superstore, and even neighbors can lend a hand. Don’t be afraid to ask. Painting-, Drywall, Plumbing repairmen are plentiful on local sites like Thumbtack, Craigslist, and HomeAdvisor (Angie’s List).
  4. Explain the situation to the incoming tenant. Having them move into an incomplete is not ideal. If you have a good relationship with them, discuss alternatives such as seeing whether they can perform the repair and move-in at the same time, or a reduction in rent. Be honest. Let the tenant come up with an acceptable remedy.
  5. Salvage any tools, supplies, and equipment that you have paid for. You may use them for the next job. Document the poor workmanship. Take photos using your smartphone. Obtain statements from others verifying the shoddy workmanship. Obtain a copy of your check or money transfer to the vendor which will document payment.
  6. If you must fire a vendor, ask to meet them in a neutral area. Come prepared. If it comes to this point, they must be already expecting this, so be firm. If they become unhappy may litigate (unlikely), or place a lien on the house (also unlikely). Performance contact litigation costs them time and money, just like for them. If you wish to settle at that time, consider paying them in cash. Do not allow them onto the premises again, and also do not provide additional contact info. In my experience, it is better for you to control the time, place, and circumstances of cutting a vendor. Be firm. Bring a friend if you need to. Offer no second chances.
  7. Most importantly, give them ‘an out’. They need to be respected. Tell them you changed your mind, or that your timeline changed, or you decided that you want to go another direction. Be honest. If they feel you are cheating them, or are unhappy with their work then moving from this point will be more difficult for both of you. It’s fine to have them hate you because of you being ‘fickle’ or ‘mercurial’, even if the real reason for the firing is due to something else.

Legal liability

Civil litigation may result. If the dollar amount is in the thousands, it may be worth it to document the poor performance. Have the new contractor take photos and explain deficiencies. * Remember, your homeowner’s insurance will cover these cases. Also if you have other insurance, such as an umbrella policy, send the service notice to them immediately. The most expensive part of litigation is not the payment of the work, but rather the court/attorney defense costs. Let the insurance pay for this.


Each jurisdiction differs in how to contest liens. Here are some important things to know: Firstly, investigate the steps and apply to contest the lean with the county. Often contesting is procedural and does not require litigation. If successful, then good. If unsuccessful, ask the county to provide the evidence presented to them, and thereafter, dispute this. Things to remember:

a. you must have a valid contract/agreement. (a written contract is preferable).

b. document any payments. If you paid them, send this info to the county records.

c. check the county records to see when the lien expires.

Contractor Certification – State Licensing Board

Often, skilled tradespeople have a certification board that handles complaints regarding their workmanship. File one if your vendor is licensed. Use the documentation in step 4 above for this purpose.

Better Business Bureau or if using a web app service, filing a complaint

The BBB has teeth with established brick & mortar companies. In my brief time as a landlord, I’ve received full and satisfactory resolution using this service. The BBB’s effectiveness lies in tenaciously asking the business questions about the specifics of the issue, and following through over time. An adjudicator takes up your case at no charge and works with both parties until resolution.

Thumbtack, HomeAdvisor, and other larger contracting applications are not as effective, but can sometimes push an unresponsive contractor to refund part of your money. Giving a vendor a 1-star rating followed by a detailed account sometimes does wonders.

Baron welcomes information you might share. Feel free to email at