Home renovation or reconstruction is one of the most common subjects for litigation in the Small Claims Court. With lengthy and complicated processes, there is lots of room for disagreement. Most frequently, there are disputes about:
- Quality of workmanship
- Completeness of work
- Time to finish
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the above types of dispute is hard to handle and difficult to address. The reasons for this are a multiplicity of the issues and facts that must be proven in the Small Claims Court, numerous technical details to sort out and, quite often, blatant hostility, which the parties develop for each other by the time they meet in the courtroom. Keeping all this in mind, as a consumer with a renovation project gone wrong, it’s best to be prepared on all fronts if you find yourself in a situation where you have to sue a contractor who did a poor job on a your home. To this end, here’s what you would need to provide your paralegal or show in court in order to maximize your chances of success.
1. Documentation you have with respect to your relationship with your former contractor. At a minimum, this, ideally, includes a written and signed contract, as prescribed by consumer protection legislation. At the least, the contract should include:
- exact legal name and address of each party
- description of the work ordered,
- price of the work or the way to determine the price payable when the work is completed, and
- time frame within which the work should be completed.
Of course, the more details are included, the better. It is best if work descriptions, in particular, are as precise as possible. For example, if this is a contract to paint a house, it would be very useful to include what type of the paint a contractor must use, what color should be used in each room and how trim should be painted. It is usually implied that any work must comply with the Building Code and other technical standards.
In the absence of a contract or details in it, it is important to produce other evidence to substantiate what should have been done, for what price, and when. Emails are often used for this purpose, and sometimes witness testimony (though testimony is considered less substantial as evidence).
2. If there is disagreement about the scope of the work or quality of the work, you should have everything photographed. Ideally, you would have been photographing the work as it progressed, even if everything was going smoothly and no problem was looming. If not, at least be sure to photographically document the work done after you realize there is an issue. Photographs are very eloquent and convincing evidence when you are trying to detail your complaints, especially if they are about quality and workmanship.
3. When a lawsuit is commenced, in almost all cases it should be supported by the expert opinion of a professional. This means that if, for example, the claim is about the quality of work, it is almost never enough just to point out deficiencies. It is a regular defence to state that the work is done well and that such or another issue with the work lies within acceptable and reasonable industry standards. It’s not like you need a professional forensic engineering report in all cases, but a person with experience in the industry is good to have on board. For example, if we are talking about painting, a qualified opinion of another professional painter would usually suffice. At the same time, in more complex cases, the report of an expert with higher qualification may be a real game changer.
4. The ultimate goal of any Small Claims Court lawsuit brought forward by a dissatisfied consumer is obtaining monetary compensation, perhaps for incomplete work, work done poorly and the like. This means that the plaintiff must clearly show how the amount of his or her claim is calculated. The best evidence of the cost claimed in any renovation or construction case is an estimate provided by another professional contractor. Coming back to our example with a deficient paint job, this may be an estimate of another painter about how much he or she would charge to repaint certain areas or the entire house. If you already fixed deficient work before the court hearing, provide the invoice for the actual expenses you incurred.
To sum up, a paralegal can definitely help you get back some or all your damages that resulted from poor, untimely or otherwise deficient construction work. However, you should be prepared to work with your paralegal to provide him with the tools to build your case: evidence of what was agreed upon, photos of the project, an expert opinion, and a quote for repair.