Your legal options in resolving a General Contractor Dispute
Unfortunately, a dispute with your general contractor is always a possibility, no matter how carefully you pick them. Fortunately, there are several options to resolve any issues that come up; you don’t necessarily have to choose an expensive and time consuming lawsuit.
Some of the resolutions are the following:
1. Skip court altogether
One of the below options might be a good idea to talk to your contractor about if you are having a dispute with them. Also, your contract may require that both your contractor and you go through one of these avenues before taking it to court.
• A state or local agency. The contractor licensing agency in your state should have a program in place for resolving disputes with your general contractor. It’s possible that there is a contractor licensing agency in your county, so do your research.
• Mediation: During mediation, both positions are heard by a senior constructor litigator or a retired judge. The mediator assists in helping each party comprehend the others point of view and help with creating a settlement. Be aware that any decision made by the mediator isn’t binding.
• Binding arbitration: This works similarly to mediation, where a litigator or judge acts as the arbitrator and listens to both sides of the story. They will then come up with a decision, which in this case, is binding for both parties. Bear in mind that you are not able to appeal if you’re not happy with the decision.
Your local court may endorse going through a mediator or arbitrator. You can find them online, and their costs may vary depending on level of complexity and your location. However, the costs are split between both parties, so it can be less expensive than litigation.
2. Small claims court
If mediation or arbitration isn’t the route you want to go down, or if you are unable to agree to this decision with your contractor, small claims court may be the answer. This is different from a traditional civil court in some ways:
• Small claims courts deal with small monetary amounts, with the maximum being around $5,000
• Since most people don’t use attorneys when attending small claims court, they usually provide easy to follow instructions during procedures.
• The rules are different in each state, but the generalities are the following:
o If your disputes jurisdiction is not defined in your contract, you can go to small claims court in the county where your contractor resides or does their business, where you are based or where the property lies.
o The necessary paperwork must be obtained from the courtroom clerk.
o Filing costs are usually around $50. You may have to sustain additional fees if your contractor loses the case and doesn’t offer the monetary compensation. Make sure that you have solid documentation showing the harm to your property, and potential harm to you and your family.
o Filing in a small claims court is usually cheaper than civil court and takes less time, but there is a lot of prep work involved and you’re not guaranteed to win.
3. Hire an attorney
A qualified construction defects lawyer who is familiar with the process and knows the states laws can be your best option. They will be able to find weaknesses in your contract, and your contractor will not be able to opt out if you sue him.
In some cases, your contractor seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. If this is the case, your lawyer can help you recover the money from a state contractor recovery fund which consists of contractor licensing fees. Otherwise, you may be able to collect your money from a bond posted by the contractor at the start of the project, which some states require.
An attorney is required in some cases, but as they can be very expensive, you might want to use them as a last resort, or if you’re dealing with a very large project.
4. Civil court
If your problem is worth more than you are allowed in small claims, then a good option is to take the issue to civil court. A lawyer with experience in contractor litigation is required in this case. Your attorney will be able to guide you through the process, and expect to pay a fee around $500 for filing. Your lawyers’ fees can usually be paid on a contingency or a per-hour basis.
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