Your home renovation was going according to plan – until the contractor stopped work without warning or explanation. Find out how to deal with it.
Andrea wanted to replace her kitchen cabinets after they suffered extensive damage from a leak. A former colleague recommended a contractor and when she hired him, he said the job would take a couple of weeks since he was short on manpower. “That seemed reasonable to me,”says the 39-year-old business owner, who lives with her mum in a two-bedroom condominium unit. “I also wanted to re-tile part of the floor and install new kitchen faucets, and I knew it would be too much work for just one or two guys.” The contractor took apart her damaged cabinets and brought in new plumbing fixtures. But barely a week later, he stopped work altogether. “Whenever I called him, it took him ages to answer his phone or get back to me,” says Andrea. “His excuse was always the same – he was waiting for new materials or he was busy with another job and would see if he could send one of his guys over. I never saw any new materials and none of his workers came.” After two weeks of waiting, she hired another contractor, who promptly got the job done. She then asked the first contractor to refund her deposit, but he didn’t do so until she threatened to report him to the consumer watchdog, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). “He clearly went against our written agreement, causing me a lot of stress, leaving my kitchen a total mess and leaving me out of pocket because I had to pay the second contractor to finish the job,” she shares. Common Complaints According to Case, the number of cases involving contractors and the renovation industry has been steadily decreasing over the last couple of years. In 2012, there were 268 complaints, while last year, that number dipped slightly to 239. From January to June this year, 119 complaints were made. (These numbers include both filed and assisted cases).
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon says the top three types of complaints the organisation receives every year are of unsatisfactory service, failure to honour an agreement and delays in delivery. He explains: “Consumers usually complain about renovation works not being carried out correctly and of defects after renovation, such as cracks in the wall or damaged flooring. They also complain that renovations were not completed on time and did not meet the conditions stated in the contract.” Edward Tan, executive director of industry watchdog Renovation And Decoration Advisory Centre (Radac), says that most of the cases his organisation sees involves poor communication between the homeowner and the contractor, homeowners overcommitting their budget (which leaves them unable to pay in full), and delays in response and follow-up. Many homeowners also make the mistake of choosing renovation companies based solely on fees and end up getting a less than satisfactory result, or engage contractors who make unrealistic promises. These companies, Edward adds, are usually not accredited to Radac (see its list at www.radac.org.sg/directory).
Your Contractor Slipped Up – What Now?
If you feel that your contractor has performed a shoddy job or has short-changed you in some way – for example, he abandoned the project or failed to meet the deadlines specified in the contract – you can try to negotiate a settlement with him, such as requesting a discount or that he redo the work, says Seng Choon. If he is unwilling to negotiate, you have the right of recourse under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act or the General Contract Law. If you want to pursue your case, you have to prove that the contractor didn’t fulfil his end of the bargain. “You should document any outstanding defects and uncompleted work,” says Seng Choon. “You should also show that he did not attempt to remedy the defects after you gave him reasonable time to do so.” If you can prove your case, you can claim for damages for breach of contract, or engage another contractor to finish the work and file a claim against the first contractor if payment has already been made. You can also approach Case for assistance, or lodge a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals if you are unable to resolve the issue on your own. Radac also offers a Renovation Conciliation and Arbitration Procedure Programme for disputes that involve renovation companies accredited to Radac. This programme provides a quicker way to solve issues without resorting to the courts, as disputes are likely to be resolved within a month. Depending on the nature of your concern, you may also wish to approach other agencies like the HDB, the Building and Construction Authority or even the police, says Edward.
Andrea wishes that she had fully researched her options before hiring the first contractor. “I trusted him and, as a result, I was left in the lurch. It’s important to get every single detail ironed out before you sign your contract, including what to do if the contractor abandons the project. It didn’t even occur to me that he could walk out in the middle of a job, and I got burnt.”
By Sasha Gonzales, Simply Her, October 2014