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CalAttorney2
CalAttorney2, Lawyer
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Satisfied Customers: 10244
Experience:  I am a civil litigation attorney representing individuals and businesses.
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Before I write this I just want to make the disclaimer that

Customer Question

Before I write this I just want to make the disclaimer that I made a HUGE mistake of paying a home remodeler without having a contract and I know that was a mistake. However, now my objective is to mitigate my damage and learn from my lesson. So here is the story:
1. In May 2015 I purchased a house, which was inspected by my friend Damon (who had just opened his home remodeling business and obtained his license and insurance in TN) and who quoted me a TOTAL of $15,000 remodeling/electrical/plumbing to get it to "flippable" condition.
2. After purchasing the home, Damon went to pull the permit and discovered that, even though I ran a title search AND purchased title insurance, Codes informed him that the property had been condemned over one year ago. He called me and said that they told him he couldn't pull a permit and it needed to be torn down. I called the title company and they basically said that they wouldn't be responsible even though it clearly states in my insurance coverage that they ARE. That's problem #1.
Problem #2, however, is bigger:
3. After I called Codes to confirm this news, they told me that as long as I obtained a structural engineer report I would be allowed to have Damon pull the permit and resume the work. But they needed someone licensed to do electrical/plumbing/sewage, which he is not.
4. In August of 2015, Damon told me that he would do all the remodeling we originally agreed on (it's a very long list) plus the extras from codes for as close to the $15,000 as he could, but if they required all new sheet rock, he would have to charge an extra ~$2,000 (I agreed). Even though TN law doesn't allow Damon to take more than 1/3 from me of the cost, I agreed to cut him a check for $10,000 because he said he was a little guy and couldn't afford to do the entire project for just the cost of supplies.
5. I emailed him the structural engineer report, and he confirmed receipt, and had been texting me photos of his work and that codes was "good" with everything he had been doing. He then texted me and said that he could not afford to buy all new windows and would need an additional $1,500-2,000. He said the electrician/plumber needed $4,000 to run everything to the street and bring it up to codes.
6. I received a text from Damon then, which said that he broke his hand (on another job) and would not finish the roof and two other things "left" until mid-October. Please note that I am out of state during all this for an internship with school. In the meanwhile, my fiancé and I made a surprise trip to Clarksville, TN (where the property is) to check out the work. To our dismay, he wasn't nearly as close along as he claimed to have been. I called codes, and found out that they had no clue that he had even finished the back wall.
7. Codes called me and said that they met with Damon and failed him on his inspection. They sent me documentation of his failure and said that they had the "white" copy and he had the "yellow" copy.
8. I played dumb, because I don't have a contract, and simply began emailing Damon with small bits and pieces of information about the project to make sure that I had documented everything we agreed on, since I cut him a check without a contract (in my defense, he promised me that he would not cash the check until emailing me TWO contracts--an original quote from May 2015, and a new contract reflecting the updated requirements of Codes for August 2015). I have emails from him showing his consent to most of the work, showing his confirmed receipt of the structural engineer report, and showing him claiming that he doesn't want to finish the property.
9. He claims now that he failed his inspection because Codes accused ME of withholding information from HIM about work that needs to be done (he mentioned the sheet rock, but that is irrelevant because he sent me prior emails about it so it's clear that he knew). I asked him to show what this "withheld" demands are and he said I simply needed to "take it up with them."
My question is:
- Is it the HOME OWNER'S responsibility to be a liaison between a licensed home remodeler and codes?
- Is he allowed to quit 1/10th of the way through the job, after taking 2/3rd of the money?
- What are my rights and where can I go from here? Can emails and text messages be held up in court in place of a contract?
- Damon promised to send me May and August contracts/quotes to file a claim and possibly sue the Title company for selling me a bad title and insuring that bad title. Without his quotes, how can I still fight the title company for the additional expenses incurred?
And now, if I were simply to fire Damon and complain about him to the licensing of TN, it will cost me SO much more money than I have to hire someone else to clean up his mess and continue where he left off. I need to know what my options are and how far the law goes to protect people like me.
Thank you.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 1 year ago.

Dear Customer,

I am sorry to learn of this situation.

You actually DO have a contract, albeit an oral one. This oral contract is supported by the circumstantial evidence of your receipts for materials, correspondence with the contractor, permits with the code department, and with any other third parties. It is also supported by your own testimony.

You can sue the contractor for breach of contract, the measure of damages is going to be the cost of hiring another contractor to come in and perform the work to complete the project as agreed upon.

Short of filing a lawsuit, you can try to mediate the dispute with them - contact your local bar association and request referrals to mediators, a third party neutral can often help you reach a mutually agreeable resolution. Use the bar association's referrals to contact a mediator or two, the mediator will then contact the other party to set up a mediation session, and you can go from there - hopefully resulting in a formal or written settlement agreement, and save yourself the time and expense of litigation.

The title question issue s a little harder for me to help you with as title insurance is a contract between you and the carrier, and different policies provide different types of protection. I would recommend speaking with a local civil litigation attorney to help you with this claim.

You can find local attorneys using the State and local Bar Association directories, or private directories such as www.AVVO.com; www.FindLaw.com; or www.Martindale.com (I personally find www.AVVO.com to be the most user friendly).

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hello,I just wanted to confirm what you said: "the measure of damages is going to be the cost of hiring another contractor to come in and perform the work to complete the project as agreed upon." I see in the TN state law that a "Contract" for Home Improvement is written or oral (although he was, apparently, obligated to send me my contract by law before cashing the check I wrote him, as he had promised to do), but I can't find any laws/rules justifying my asking for him to pay for another contractor to come and fix/finish the job. Also, I cannot find an attorney willing to take such a small amount (I've searched high and low). Should I keep looking for an attorney or just file in small claims court?
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 1 year ago.

Dear Customer,

We are discussing damages from a breach of contract perspective (civil litigation), not a statutory or regulatory one. You can see another (more detailed) discussion of these damages here: http://www.nashvillebusinesslitigationlawyersblog.com/2011/06/breach-of-contract-damages-in.html

This is a smaller claim for an attorney to take on. You can sue on your own if you like - small claims jurisdiction in TN covers up to $15,000 (in some cases up to $25,000), see: http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/programs/self-help-center.

Short of filing a lawsuit, you can try to mediate the dispute with them - contact your local bar association and request referrals to mediators, a third party neutral can often help you reach a mutually agreeable resolution. Use the bar association's referrals to contact a mediator or two, the mediator will then contact the other party to set up a mediation session, and you can go from there - hopefully resulting in a formal or written settlement agreement, and save yourself the time and expense of litigation.