Contractors: "The homeowner and I signed a contract for specific work to be done on their home. I did everything I was expected to do under the contract, and the work was done in a neat and professional way, but they refused to pay me! I have put a lien on their house for the money they owe me. But I need the money now. I have bills to pay!"
The common question asked by both the homeowner and the contractor is: "Is there anything I can do?"
My standard answer always starts with "Talk to the other side." I say, "See if the two parties can agree or compromise on anything."
It is my opinion that litigation should be the last option after everything else has been exhausted. Sometimes, it's just a simple misunderstanding about what was promised and what was delivered. Talking it out and compromising avoids bad feelings, bad reviews, and much of the costs associated with litigation.
There are times, however, when the homeowner has grandiose expectations of the work to be performed by the contractor. Conversely, there are times when a contractor overreaches and promises work that he just cannot deliver, and leaves the homeowner with a home they cannot live in anymore.
So, what to do? For both sides, make sure the expectations and deliverables are clearly in writing. Be as specific as you can. It might take a little bit more time up front, but it will save you headaches when one party claims "That is not what we agreed to!" Secondly (and this is especially important for the contractor), get to know in minute detail the Illinois home repair and remodeling act.
The statute lays out all that is required for the contractor to give the potential customer so that they will reduce the likelihood of any counter suits against them, or even invalidate any lien you may have had on the property. The homeowner should know a few basic elements from this statute as well. For example, the contractor should state in writing that you have 48 hours to cancel the contract, no questions asked. He also has to supply the homeowner with the "Know Your Consumer Rights brochure".
For both sides, check references. For the homeowner, this could mean calling previous customers, checking reviews from independent sources like Yelp, and checking to see if there are any complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. For the contractor, ask around -- see if any of your friends or fellow workers had any business dealings, good or bad, with the homeowner. And for both sides, check the local court record and see if there have been any lawsuits against the opposite side, and, if so, when the lawsuit started, and most importantly, what the lawsuit was about.
Let's face it: when one has to go to court to enforce one's rights, it will be a long, long process, frustrating, and expensive whether you "win" the case or not. You can rest assured that win, lose or draw, both the homeowner and the contractor will be spreading information (possibly even disinformation) about the other side's reputation and veracity. Even in a big city like Chicago, the home repair community is small, and rumor and innuendo run rampant. Don't let your reputation suffer just because you had to go to court.
As always, please feel free to contact me with questions about any legal matter. In addition, I welcome any referrals, so please circulate this email (or any others you receive from me) to your family, friends, and colleagues.