Consumer Protection Law
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A verbal agreement can be as binding as a written agreement in many cases. In your description it appears the contractor cannot perform because trades are not available and therefore no agreement is possible. In many cases the law will look to see if the contractor relied on your verbal agreement and took a position in support of that agreement e.g. buying materials, giving up other jobs, hiring employees etc. If there was a valid reliance on your verbal agreement a Court could enforce the agreement. Whether the contractor relied on your promise of work will determine if a binding agreement is established. Without reliance it is highly likely no legal obligation exists.
Here it appears that the contractor cannot start the engagement as required. Trades were not contracted for, and permits were not obtained. Since time was a material component of the agreement in that a timely start was required the contractor may have breached any agreement relieving you from any alleged contractual obligation. It also appears that the contractor is not qualified to do the work contracted for. Tis would tend to support a breach of any agreement to satisfactorily complete the work..
Since he cannot complete his work as initially requested the potential for legal repercussions are minimal. Your biggest legal hurdle as described above occurs if the contractor gave up other job opportunities to handle your job, or spent money on preparing for the job. In the facts you presented since he could not proceed on time without a permit this may not be a concern. While I cannot state there will not be legal repercussions, any repercussions would likely be decided in your favor or be of a minimal financial impact.
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Thank you for this very helpful response - just one other question, though , about the permit. The contractor, we have let go, has applied as I mentioned. Will we now have to pay again for another permit for another contractor? Will there be any problems here?
can the name on the permit be changed or does the new contractor have to re-apply? If the permit has not been approved yet can this be cancelled, hopefully with a refund? many thanks
Thank you so much. Ella