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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Business Law
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Experience:  Attorney
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BACKGROUND: My daughter and her boyfriend agreed to paint a

Customer Question

BACKGROUND: My daughter and her boyfriend agreed to paint a 3 level townhouse top to bottom for $800. They have never painted anything in their lives, so this was all new, and the guy that hired them knew that in advance. Still, he gave them the job, I
think partly out of kindness, as he could see they were struggling and this could be a way to earn some money while learning a trade. Once they started the job, however, it didn't take long for them to feel overwhelmed. They began painting the house, then
about halfway through they brought in some friends to assist, which turned out to be counterproductive as apparently their work required re-work plus apparently one or more of them thought it would be a good idea to shake paint off their brushes and onto the
deck and patio/grass below, which has proven difficult to clean. After a few weeks my daughter told the guy who hired them that they were done. However, they frankly weren't even close, as an inspection turned up numerous touch ups plus a bathroom needed to
be re-painted, a wall in the dining room and living room needed to be re-painted, electrical and phone plates were not put back into place, plus there was a sizable amount of clean-up that still needed to be done. In short the job turned into something of
a fiasco and the guy who hired them is understandably dissatisfied with the effort, and began talking in terms of deducting their $800 pay unless everything was addressed. My daughter was burnt out and wanted to walk away, but still I advised her to stay on
the job - it was a very bad deal, but still she agreed to do the whole house for $800 and she needs to honor that agreement. I'm proud of her that she stuck it out and stayed to work off everything on the punch out list, which she and her boyfriend did except
for the paint on the deck/patio, which after some effort to clean was unsuccessful. Afterwards, when the guy came in to take a look, he found the house in better shape but there were quite a few touch ups that still needed to be done, plus he apparently found
that there was a 'sheen' problem on the living room wall and so he wanted the whole wall re-painted. At this point he announced that, although my daughter and her boyfriend said they'd take care of those items, still he didn't want their services any longer
and would get someone else to finish the job. QUESTION: Now we come to the compensation part. The guy who hired them has already made a partial payment of $400 so there is $400 remaining to be paid. I would estimate that conservatively 200 hours have been
worked on this job, bringing their per hour rate, if they were paid in full, to $4 an hour. I would say it will take about 5 hours for the other person to finish the job, as the house is largely complete. The guy who told them to stop working did so two days
ago and has not paid the remaining $400 as of yet. I suspect he will pay, but i anticipate it won't be the full $400, as the job was to 'paint the whole house' and that strictly speaking wasn't accomplished to his satisfaction. Couple of other points: there
was no written contract; no definition of what 'completely painted' meant; no terms regarding termination; no written agreement on when payment should be made, etc. If payment is made for an amount less than $400, is there any recourse for them to get paid
the full $400? Or, does this go in the 'hard life lesson' category...?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Business Law
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Hi,

I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear that this happened.

When people make an agreement that doesn't include certain terms, judges put in place fillers: payment should be made within a reasonable time after the work is completed, for example. If the job is not completed properly, he needs to give your daughter and a boyfriend a chance to fix the problems, which he did. Terms are given their usual meaning - completely painted is going to mean every wall in the house, unless there's some reason to believe he also meant ceilings. (It would usually mean interior doors, too, unless their conversations made it clear that neither of them were talking about doors).

Contractors are considered self-employed and are therefore not entitled to minimum wage the same as an employee. If they agreed to a bad deal that works out to them making about $4 per hour, that's legal, because it was their choice. So that's not a legal argument for collecting the remaining payment. She's actually lucky she didn't agree to more, because any painting job that pays $1,000 or more requires a contractor's license, and it would've been illegal for them to do the work. What it comes down to is the deal that they made. They agreed to paint the house for $800. That means that the owner is entitled to a newly painted house for $800. If he has to pay someone else to finish cleaning up and fix the problems with the job, your daughter and her boyfriend could be required to pay for it. He won't necessarily get the cost for repainting the wall with the "sheen" problem if that's not something they did wrong or something that was discussed. A judge would have to find that they made a mistake and the wall needed to be repainted, as opposed to the owner just not liking it. But they could be responsible for professionally cleaning the deck/patio or repainting it, plus the cost of doing those touch-ups. If they sue for the $400, they run the risk that he will countersue, if those costs exceed the $400 he hasn't paid them yet.

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Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thanks for the response. Turns out it wasnt the owner that hired them instead it was a contractor who was hired to do the job that hired my daughter to work for him to get the job done. It seems to follow then that if the owner told the contractor that the owner would pay > $1,000 to have the house painted by the contractor who in turn hired my daughter to actually do the job then its up to the contractor to have the contractors license. I think we are at a point where my daughter is at the mercy of the contractor who hired them. Tough lesson.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
the contractor needs a license in that case, not your daughter. They might be able to recover more of the remaining $400, but it'll depend on what it costs the contractor to finish the work.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Well, I originally wrote on 9/19/2015 to share the problem. Since then my daughter and her boyfriend have made a half dozen or so attempts to contact the contractor to resolve the matter of final payment, and I too have reached out to him on their behalf, and now it is 10/4/2015 without any attempt at contact from Kevin, the contractor. My daughter and her boyfriend last spoke to Kevin on 9/17/2015 and were willing to address any issues with the work that Kevin may have pointed out. Instead, after 200+ hours of effort, Kevin unilaterally terminated their arrangement. That seems to be relatively important point, the fact that it was Kevin ending the arrangement, not my daughter and her boyfriend walking away and leaving the job undone. By 9/17/2015, the whole house was painted top to bottom, but apparently not to Kevin's satisfaction. In addition, my daughter and her boyfriend went beyond just painting the house and pulled up all the old worn out carpet and piled it up on the curb for disposal - an effort that clearly was outside the scope of painting. I think they were motivated to do so, as they were appreciative of the work and wanted to do a good job. Disappointingly, I think it's clear now that Kevin was posturing, that he was finding fault with the painting work so as to avoid the final payment of $400. Is there no legal recourse here? I have tried to appeal to Kevin's sense of fairness but to no avail. One other point: Kevin appears to be a manager for a local non-profit organization called project mend-a-house. Not sure that's relevant, but I wonder if this job was under the purview of that organization, if not directly then perhaps tangentially. Thanks in advance for any feedback you can provide.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

You stated that the reason he terminated the agreement was that it was not performed satisfactorily, even after they made efforts to fix it. If that's the case, again, he could actually sue them for the cost of what it takes to fix the job.

Your daughter made a very bad deal for agreeing to work for such a low amount of money. But since she's not an employee, a judge can't look at the time it took to do the work versus the payment. He has to look at whether she did the painting in what is called "a workmanlike manner", if the work was completed when she said it was, and how it looked after they finished. For them to get a judgment against the contractor, they have to be able to show that the work WAS done properly and he had no reason to fire them. But there's a risk, because your daughter can be countersued for the cost of fixing the items that weren't done properly, and the cost of removing the paint stain from the deck (or repainting the whole thing - they damaged the deck). It's possible, based on what you've told me, that if they sue, they will wind up having to pay the contractor for those things. They'd be taking a risk.

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