What to do about a contractor that didn’t finish the job?

Our contractor didn’t finish his job as he promised to do before the rainy season. We heard from a neighbor that he was in jail and by the time we tracked him down to talk to him. He kept saying that he’ll be here to finish the job but he never came back. The last payment he took was of $1500 and he only bought 2 pieces of wood and then he put himself in jail and keep all the rest of the money. Can we sue him for not completing the job? Can we also sue him to return the money? We don’t know the steps that we need to take.

Asked on November 11, 2011 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

As the term "contractor" implies, the contractor does work according to a contract, or agreement--often, and preferably, a written one, but it could be an oral (often called verbal) agreement, too. Under the agreement, the contractor is paid in exchange for doing certain work, to certain standards, by a certain date. If the contractor does not do this, he has breached the contract and will lose his entitlement to some or all of the pay (the exact consequence depends on the nature and severity of the breach)--or if the contractor was already paid but did not perform, he'd have to return some or all of the money (if he did some work, he probably can keep some of the compensation). If he won't return it voluntarily, he could be sued for its return. For smaller amounts, you could sue him in small claims court, representing yourself. $1,500 is probably at the level of suing in small claims, since the cost of a lawyer would eat up much of that amount.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.