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J.Hazelbaker
J.Hazelbaker, Attorney
Category: Business Law
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We are having a dispute with a general contractor over his

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We are having a dispute with a general contractor over his inflated invoices on a home improvement job. We believe he has overcharged by at least $30,000 on a job that should have cost around $60,000. He says we have an open contract with him him, although we never signed anything. His so called contract was a ball park estimate to us and he admitted he was charging us by labor and materials plus 20 % for his fee. He refuses to give us invoices showing labor and materials. The job is about 80% done and is at a standstill as we refuse to pay him more without receiving proper invoices. Frankly we know he has overcharged us by tens of thousands at this point. We have paid enough for this job to be complete by now. What can we do besides paying the contractor whatever he comes up with from the thin air? How can we protect ourselves from liens? Thanks!

J.Hazelbaker :

Hello. Thank you for using JustAnswer.

J.Hazelbaker :

The first thing that I would do now that you have reached an impass and the contractor is acting unreasonably is to file a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation:

J.Hazelbaker :

https://www.myfloridalicense.com/entercomplaint.asp

J.Hazelbaker :

This entity handles disputes including fee disputes with contractors.

J.Hazelbaker :

Involving a third party licensing agency which has the power to compel the contractor to take action and which will not cost you is the best option at this point.

J.Hazelbaker :

Please let me know what follow-up questions you have. If my above responses have been helpful, please click Accept so that I get credit for the time/effort. You may always restart the thread and ask follow-up questions at any time by clicking the “Reply” button at the bottom of the question/answer thread. You can access this thread later in your profile under the “My Questions” tab.

Customer:

This is not really helpful to me as an answer. I need advice as to what to do next. I know I can file a complaint with the state of florida, however that will be a time consuming procedure. Do you have a third party licensing agency in mind other than the state of florida? In addition how do I protect myself against liens that the contractor may file?

Customer:

Contractor syas we have a contract even though I have never signed what he considers to be a contract. To me it is and always has been a ball park estimate. He intitially called it an estimat. In a suceeding invoive he changed the wording to read ESTIMATE/SCOPE OF WORK/CONTRACT---IS THAT REALLY A CONTRACT? I NEVER SIGNED IT!

Customer:

Sorry for the typo's above:

You only have two legal options under Florida law:

1) the complaint with FDBPR, or

2) file a lawsuit against the contractor in district court for breach of contract (oral or verbal) and unjust enrichment.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but these are the only legal options to compel a contractor who will not negotiate with you reasonably.

It is unlikely that liens would be filed, once a complaint or lawsuit is filed. In additon, the contractor must file liens within a specified time frame after the work has been done. Contractors often threaten liens, but don't often file them or file them properly.

Finally, if a lien is filed, but the contractor does not sue to enforce it, it will expire. If the contractor does sue to enforce it, he has to prove he is entitled to the money. Of course , you have obvious arguments against such claims.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX more detailed explanation. Just one more question. What is the best way to find a lawyer who specializes in this kind of legal dispute?
This area of law is called "construction law" and either a construction law or "contract law" litigator would be ideal for this type of case.

There are two principal ways to locate such an attorney in your area:

www.martindale.com

or

the Florida Bar referral program:

http://www.floridabar.org/tfb/tfbconsum.nsf/48e76203493b82ad852567090070c9b9/ec2322e512b83d1e85256b2f006cc812?opendocument
J.Hazelbaker and 4 other Business Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks!
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I just noticed you did not give me an answer to the following question:

 

Contractor says we have a contract even though I have never signed what he considers to be a contract. To me it is and always has been a ball park estimate. He intitially called it an estimate. In a suceeding invoice he changed the wording to read ESTIMATE/SCOPE OF WORK/CONTRACT---IS THAT REALLY A CONTRACT? I NEVER SIGNED IT and neither did he!

No. It would not be a written contract unless the parties signed it.

However, Florida law will enforce oral contracts in certain situations. In addition, there are other legal theories that can be used to recover such as "promissory estoppel" and "unjust enrichment".

In your case, the dispute will resolve around what either of you state was the understanding. The contractor will be at a disadvantage, particularly in the license complaint environment, because Florida best practices are for contractors to provide written, detailed contracts, which your contractor failed to do.

In addition, the invoice he provided would not be admissible as evidence as to what was agreed because he unilaterally changed it (e.g. scope of work/contract).

So, the most that exists is an oral contract with some invoices that could be used to determine what work was agreed to. All the extra stuff the contractor now asserts he is owed for (e.g. 20% fee on top of labor) may not be recoverable by him unless that was verbally explained to you at the begining of the relationship.

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