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socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 38901
Experience:  Attorney and Real Estate broker -- Retired (mostly)
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I have about 50 cubic yards of debris removed from the perimeter

Customer Question

I have about 50 cubic yards of debris removed from the perimeter of a 3 acre property composed mostly of small dia. limbs, dead, dry, shrubs, etc., stacked inside the perimeter, in long rows about 6 ft. high by 10 ft. wide by 30 - 50 ft. long. The task is to remove this material. I prefer to have this material chipped and/or mulched and left on site to use for ground cover to preserve moisture and weed suppression.
I'm very skeptical of the estimates I've received, typ. $1200 to $11,000 [that's correct, a nearly 10:1 estimated cost variation], will be the final bill. For example, whenever I offer to pay beforehand I can expect to get a comment such as "Oh, we trust you, we'll bill you after the job is done." An estimate, as I learned the hard way years ago, isn't worth the paper it's written on. Some tell me I should request a signed "Binding Estimate." Others recommend a "Fixed Price Contract" detailing the work to be done, etc. Whatever the legal solution, it needs to be effective at curtailing tree trimming companies or hauling contractors, etc., from low-balling the cost and after the job is done blind siding me with a large bill.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  socrateaser replied 2 years ago.

From a legal standpoint, there is only one name for an agreement to perform a service in exchange for compensation: "contract."

Such a contract can be as simple as: "In consideration for [contractor's name] chipping and mulching all dead organic material (approximately 50 cubic yards) from the property found on the lot located at [address], [property owner] agrees to pay [amount] -- payment to be made at the conclusion of the aforementioned work."

And, of course, the contract needs to be signed and dated by the contractor (and you).

That's all you need. Now, if the contractor is licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), then the contractor has certain legal obligations, among them, not to accept more than 10% deposit for the work, and to notify you that if you do not pay in accordance with the contract, the contractor can place a mechanics lien on the property, and force the property's sale, in order to pay the bill.

There is also an issue that most property owners don't consider, which is that many unlicensed (and licensed) contractors use undocumented workers, or pay workers in cash, so as to avoid having to remit payroll taxes, or workers compensation insurance. And, if for some reason, a worker is injured on your property, then you will end up being sued by some enterprising lawyer who knows that California law makes such lawsuits a "slam dunk," if you take my meaning.

Consequently, the reason for the discrepancy in price may be due to the higher priced bids doing everything "by the book," while the low bidders plan to avoid every possible law, and hope that they don't get caught.

The only way to really protect yourself is to find a reputable landscape contractor. It will cost more, but you won't be at risk. You can also require that the contractor provide you with a certificate of workers compensation insurance sufficient to cover all of the employees on the worksite. Without that, you don't want to hire the contractor, because you're taking a pretty substantial risk.

Other than that, there's nothing particularly special about any of this. A professional contractor will have a professional looking contract with all of the related terms and conditions that I've discussed here.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. I wouldn't accept the lowest or the highest bid. But, whatever it is, I would want everything in writing, and everything that I've described above.

I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if you require further clarification. And, please provide a positive feedback rating for my answer -- otherwise, I receive nothing for my efforts in your behalf.

Thanks again for using!

Customer: replied 2 years ago.

What is the best response to a company or contractor who submits a higher cost than stated on the contract claiming that I'd increased or changed the scope of the work and therefore the higher cost was justified, threatening to file a mechanic's lien against my property if I didn't pay the higher cost.

To avoid this type of problem I would not increase or deviate from the original scope of the work set forth in the original contract without a written Change Work Order, signed by both parties, specifying the new work and the associated costs. I think this should be a section or paragraph included in the original contract.

What's your advice?

Expert:  socrateaser replied 2 years ago.
A contractor that does additional work without obtaining a signed change order will almost certainly lose an attempt to foreclose a mechanic's lien -- because, the contract did not specify additional payment for the additional work. Consequently, only an inexperienced contractor would contract without provisions for this sort of possibility. Otherwise, the contract must anticipate potential cost overruns, and provide sufficient "cushion" in the price to account for any unanticipated costs. But, if you receive a contract without this type of provision, and you agree on the price, then if the contractor doesn't finish, and comes back with a request for more money, you can say, "no," find someone else to complete the project, and then sue the first contractor for the cost of completion. I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if you require further clarification. And, please provide a positive feedback rating for my answer -- otherwise, I receive nothing for my efforts in your behalf.Thanks again for using!