Your Guide to Money Etiquette
Get advice on how to handle sticky financial situations.
Q. Can I refuse to pay a contractor if his work was unsatisfactory?
A. Yes. But before you withhold payment from a painter or a plumber, or even a general contractor, be sure you are judging his work fairly, says Norman Bowie, a professor emeritus of business ethics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Ask yourself: Is the appliance or area now functional? And is it safe? For projects with an aesthetic bent, ask yourself: Does the outcome look reasonably attractive? (If you tend to be a perfectionist in these matters, ask a friend for a second opinion.) Also consider: Did you play a role in the bad decision making—for example, by picking that orange semigloss? If the answer to these questions is no, then you’re within your rights to tell the contractor that you refuse to pay unless he corrects the work or hires another expert—on his dime—to do so.
Of course, from a legal standpoint, it’s never simple to walk away from a bill. It’s best to sign a contract that outlines the expected tasks, the time frame, the price, and the desired result before the project begins, says Charles L. Knapp, a professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco. Work with the contractor to describe what you want—such as “gray stone tiles covering all of kitchen floor.”
If you don’t have this paperwork and the contractor demands payment, contact the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (nascla.org) to find out how to file a formal complaint. Some states offer mediation programs, while others will launch an official investigation into a company, says Angie Whitaker, the executive director of NASCLA. If you’ve been forthright, you might get to chuck that invoice. Getting rid of those botched tiles may not be as easy.