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Brent Blanchard, Esq
Brent Blanchard, Esq, Lawyer
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Satisfied Customers: 1975
Experience:  Thirteen years' experience in consumer transactions and litigation
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I had a plumbing company bid a job to re plumb my house with

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I had a plumbing company bid a job to re plumb my house with a Pex Distribution System Manifold set up. They did not install a manifold type system they simply replaced all the visible horizontal lines in the basement with Pex tubing and left all the riser piping from the basement to all 4 bathrooms and the kitchen. I don't have one toilet that works properly out of the 4. There isn't enough pressure for the Sloan type toilets because they did not replace the riser piping with the Pex. It has the old galvanized piping from the year 1926 when the house was built. I have had no less than 10 leaks thus far. Still no properly working toilets and the company just keeps making band aid fixes in the basement. They want to try to charge my an exorbitant amount of money to replace the old riser galvanized piping which should have been done in the original proposal. The plumber that actually did the work has since been fired but not because of me. I don't want to pay them another dime. I've had other bids and the amount to install the Manifold type Pex Distribution is half of what they charged me. I want to take them to court. They also did some piping work on my boiler system. That isn't working properly either. The amount for all this work far exceeds what I could claim in small claims court. This job has been going on since Sept 6th 2012. I live in the house and I feel like I'm camping. What do I need to do and what type of attorney do I need to contact? I live in Detroit Michigan.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Expert:  Brent Blanchard, Esq replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for your question.

Sorry to hear about the ongoing trials. A house should not be like a . . . I'd like to make a joke here but can't think of something witty... But you know what I mean.

Your dispute sounds like a blend of general construction law with more general contracts law at the core. Depending on how Michigan treats these things, renovation projects might also fall under the more specialized arena of construction defects law.

And don't worry about being forced out of small claims by the (yes you can worry about THIS part-->) larger size of damages. Small claims is indeed quick and easy but the only remedy they can give is money and the fast pace and lack of formal "discovery" makes evidence hit-and-miss, with correspondingly sloppy results.

Key issues:
1. Exactly what WAS promised in the first bid? "Scope of work" is an important combined construction/legal term here.
2. IF the scope of work was incomplete, did the owner's contracting for later repairs *effectively* waive any breach of contract claim under #1?
3. Does the rest of the plumbing trade interpret the scope of the work the way you do or the way the contractor does? Watch for undisclosed family/cousin/in-laws relationships between the defendant and the "trade expert" they trot out for testimony!
4. General contracts law almost never relieves a person of a "bad deal". Too high of a price for the scope of the work is, legally, what the homeowner agreed to. That is hard to defeat.
5. Starting with the contract price AND whatever was done improperly or not done at all, most of the time a homeowner can find substitute "performance" by a competent, but not usually the highest-priced, contractor. The costs of substitute performance are first deducted from anything left unpaid on the original contract, THEN what is left (if any) becomes the breach of contract damages one tries to get the breaching party to pay. Put another way, a $10k job incomplete that takes $5k to finish but with $2k of the original work incomplete, is a $3k contract damages case. A $10k job finished but badly botched that takes $5k to fix remains a $5k contract damages case.
6. A breach of contract victim has a duty to "mitigate damages". So, if the highest-bid contractor is used to finish a job, there must be a good explanation for that decision. If not, then the completion costs might not be ALL recoverable.

When you find the local attorney to consult with to nail these things down and analyze anything else important (like whether any special provisions of construction defect laws apply), make sure that you bring all the bid documents. On photocopies of them, marked for ONLY your attorney to see, highlight anything fishy or which duplicates the scope of work from any prior bid document from the same contractor. Be sure to look for, and exclude from your damages calculus, any NEW scope of work that could not have been reasonably known at the time of any prior bid.

I hope your lousy plumber is a licensed contractor WITH adequate insurance and/or bonding. A construction law attorney is needed to sort out whether anything like that could provide a source of cash recovery on the claims. Usually IME, construction performance bonds are job-specific and required by the landowner on new construction, so for homeowners its usually a general liability bond or general liability insurance.

Thank you.


Customer: replied 2 years ago.

The job is paid in full unfortunately. It's funny you mention the family thing. The person I have been dealing with from day one on the phone and through emails that works at the office just happens to be the sister of the owner. I just found this out today as I repeatedly kept slamming the owner and the company. The workmanship is pathetic. I also found out from my electrician, who I like, that this plumbing company is a sham. Sure they have an A+ rating with the BBB but what the electrician told me is that one person holds the license and then the company contracts out unlicensed plumbers to do the work. The original contract says "Install Pex Distribution System" to all four bathrooms, kitchen, laundry tub, washer, dishwasher and refrigerator. There is no Pex Distribution System in my basement. They simply pieced the visible horizontal piping with the Pex. All the original 1926 era galvanized riser piping is still in between the walls.

Expert:  Brent Blanchard, Esq replied 2 years ago.
Well, your local attorney will be very interested in that first bid AND the subsequent bids.

Make sure he or she addresses #2 above.

When all the payment is made, judges tend to insist that ALL of the work also be done.

If there is any hope of talking sense into this person's head, mediation might be a faster and much less expensive option. The MI Contractor's Board might have some options along those lines.

At this point, you can say with confidence that you have talked with (not consulted, since I can't see the documents and personal representation is not allowed here anyway), and that attorney has recommended that you hire a local attorney to investigate this matter and find the best legal remedy for you.

Thank you.

Customer: replied 2 years ago.

I would consider talking to the city about the company's surety bond. If the work is substandard they are required to fix it or the bond is forfeited. meaning they can't work in the city. Do you know anything about this? Should I get the city inspectors to come out and look at the work first and then on their recommendations seek the assistance of an attorney? I was told by the electrical inspector from the city of Detroit that they can force the company to fix or redo the work and all the costs would be on them. Not sure if this is true or not.

Expert:  Brent Blanchard, Esq replied 2 years ago.
Whether there are any actionable code violations is beyond the scope of the original question and beyond what I could address without personally looking at the installation (Before passing the bar I was a law clerk for a heavy-hitter construction defect firm).

That said, gathering evidence and witnesses is almost always a good idea whether they wind up being used or not. There is some chance that the repairs contracted for might have required that a permit be pulled (That's always an uncertain area, the line between a simple no-permit repair and extensive renovations requiring permit and all new work to be done per newest codes.).

But if anyone local will know the codes and whether something in your home was done up to code, a building inspector specifically looking at plumbing would.

Me, I always enjoy the chance to learn something new. Go for it.

As for whether MI contractor bonding requirements include something that would give you a pot of money to collect against for that type of work, I'm not familiar with that off the top of my head and it would be a $50 legal research question, minimum. Again, the inspector and/or the Contractor's Board would not only know better than I do (without needing to look anything up since they work with it every day), but they are oriented towards helping the citizens. This is getting away from general law and into the nitty-gritty of your state's "regulatory scheme". I truly hope that the government people you encounter are examples of good government and sacred tax dollars well spent.

Thank you.

Brent Blanchard, Esq, Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 1975
Experience: Thirteen years' experience in consumer transactions and litigation
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