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

Answers:

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.


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