Q: We hired a local company to help us with a project on our property. After the work was done, we received a bill for more than what was agreed. The bill also included work that was not performed. Do we need to pay it? -- Karl
A: Whenever you hire someone to perform work on your home, you should have a written contract. The agreement should detail the work, its cost and when it will be complete. This will help avoid problems later by making sure everyone's expectations are clear. I hope that you did this for your project. If so, double-check your contract to see if it matches the bill and make sure that the mistake is not on your part.
Whether you have a written agreement or not, your first step is to pick up the phone and have a direct but polite conversation with the company. I have seen many cases where the problem began with a simple misunderstanding or billing error and turned into a nightmare because neither party bothered to try to communicate with the other.
More than one contractor client has told me that he would have taken care of the issue at his cost if his customer had not immediately accused him of being a crook. Polite, but firm, conversations can solve many problems.
If this does not solve the dispute, you should pay the parts of the invoice that you agree with, and send a letter describing which charges you are disputing. In my experience, most people will pay nothing when they get a bill with a small mistake. This causes a minor issue that is quickly resolved to spiral into a much larger problem.
I know of one case where a homeowner lost her house to foreclosure because she refused to pay her association anything until they cleared up a $10 error. By the time the late charges and litigation costs were added to the balance, she simply could not afford to save her condo.
When disputing the charges that you do not agree with, make sure to document all of your communication. If you still cannot work things out and your contractor decides to sue you, being able to show your paper trail will help your lawyer defend your case.
About The Writer
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.
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