Monday, June 17, 2013

The Handyman From Hell

by Kate Collins

Have I got a handyman story for you!

Once upon a time, I decided to downsize and build a condo home. The home came with a basement that I could have finished according to the developer's plan or I could hire someone to finish it to my specs. Being the fiercely independent (read: stubborn) person that I am, I opted to go my own way. I contracted with a handyman my husband had used to keep his law offices in good repair, whom we subsequently used to do a partial remodel of our former house's basement.

Fast forward to me being alone, and this handyman, who bills himself as a home remodeler, treating my basement as his after school project. Instead of putting in the walls, storage closet, doors, and trim, and getting them ready to paint by the time I moved in (he had 2 months) he had barely begun the drywall when I had to move. Once I was in, he would spend two hours one evening, an hour or two one morning, on and off, for another month, until I got so exasperated that I told him he had two weeks to finish.

So he brought in his two helpers, slapped up the tape and mud, made a big mess with the sanding, handed me the remainder of his bill (I had paid 2/3rds already) and waited for his check.

Being totally naive, I paid him and said that in the spring he'd have to come back and finish the trim and prep the drywall for painting.

Yeah, right.

Fast forward to March, when I had a painter take a look at  walls in the basement to give me a quote.  He said they were so bad, there was no way he could paint. He said they would need at least 2 more coats of mud and a lot of sanding (Oh, the mess!). So I contacted the handyman who promised to come finish.

Let's move to May. I finally get the handyman to bring in a professional drywaller who takes a long look and says there is no way he can do it in the time slot he has. He practically runs from the house.

After hounding the handyman for another two weeks, last week he brings another drywaller, who said he only works in evenings and it will take him at least a month to fix it.  I say to the handyman, No, way. This has to be done by the end of June.  This is nearly 9 months from the start of this project.

Handyman says he will have to call the "big stores" and hire them to do it. He tells me he'll have to "bite the bullet," which I'm assuming means it'll cost him big bucks. That was a week ago. I haven't heard back.

I have two options now: I can remind him that I have a lot of lawyer friends and I am not above seeking legal remediation, and force him to fix it, to be responsible for his bad act; or I can take him to small claims court and make him pay me back, then I will have to hire someone to fix his mess.

I'm leaning toward making him be responsible for fixing his mess, but I'm wondering if any of you ever had a similar experience and what you did about it.

What really angers me is that if my husband were alive, this man would never have pulled this with him. He feared/respected my beloved Greek but obviously does not me. Isn't that just sad?


Tarri said...

I have had a couple of horror stories.

One involved a plumber who was supposed to run new pipes under the house I bought. I was going to Reno for vacation for over a week and when I arrived home at 5:30 a.m., the water was off and the crawl space under the house was open. He had taken apart some oak paneling on the wall in the room that connected to the bathroom, which made it convenient for some stray cats to come in and pee in my back room.

I had to contact the Better Business Bureau to get him to come and "finish" the work.

That was minor compared to what happened when I remodeled the house I am living in now. This house is over 100 years old and it has been in my family since my step-grandpa died in 1953. It was a rental for about 20 years until I moved back here. Anyway, I contacted a contractor to do major work (bathroom, kitchen, staircase move, rooms reconfigured) and he said it would take about six weeks. Four or five months later my house sold (it wasn't on the market) so I had to move into this house. He charged me tons more than the estimate and didn't even do the stairs or the kitchen before I pulled the plug. A handyman did my stairs and kitchen and was a dream to work with.

I had to threaten to go to the BBB with this guy too, in order to get him to reconfigure the final bill he presented me with.

Aurian said...

I am convinced they take advance of single women, thinking they are helpless and knowledgeless and will just pay. Take his ass to court Kate, and let him pay.

Kate Collins said...

How horrible, Tarri! When you find a good handyman, he's worth his weight in gold. Maybe I'll contact the BBB to see what they say about this guy.

Kate Collins said...

It may come to that, Aurian. I'm praying hard that it doesn't.

Jeannie D. said...

The problem with making them fix their work, is that it will probably be as shoddy as what he has already done. I think they take advantage of women also, just like mechanics. They are really bad at taking advantage of women. I am very lucky in that my Husband is our handyman. We have been remodeling our house for awhile. Doing a little here and there. He has done it all. We have remodeled two baths, major redo of our kitchen that was from the 50's, put in new windows, new hardwood floors. Like I said, I am very lucky. I would get my money back and get really good references on the next guy.

Unknown said...

Kate, I would file a claim with the small claims court. I don't know what the amount you paid him was but assuming it was within the range then do it! Make sure you have photos and statements from everyone about the job and write a statement yourself like what you wrote us including dates, work done and how much you paid. Don't forget to include an estimate on what it will cost to fix it right. Good luck!

Joanie said...

Having dealt with the residuals of building a house and having a builder who didn't want to deal with things afterward that weren't done correctly--even though we noted and discussed most of them with him before the closing and he promised each would be readily fixed soon after, including a problem with the septic system that necessitated us getting the Health Dept. director involved--I did the following.

After six months had passed since the house's closing, I wrote a detailed registered letter listing each individual problem--more than a dozen, small or large--that still needed to be remedied. I stated that all of these had been discussed at length and which were already known before closing and before our moving in, so could have been more easily remedied by builder and at his greater convenience while he actually had the key and the run of the place.

Finally, I reminded that this was a registered letter, and wrote "TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE", adding that if all matters were not taken care of by the end of the month we would not only file for remedy in small claims court, but would ask for damages that total our estimates for other professionals to come in and take care of these problems. I explained that as we'd already paid him to do this work professionally in the building charges we paid him to construct the house, if he could not or would not perform his responsibilities we should not have to pay a second time for someone else to fix his contractors mistakes. I figured that alone would get his attention, as the costs would likely be higher than what he paid his regular contractors.

I also noted that the first problem to fix was the septic situation. Surprisingly, after receiving the letter, the builder had the gall to call and start by saying (very confidently, I might add) that the septic system was fine, and had passed all Health Department benchmarks. I responded how puzzling that was, since the director of the Health Department had not only agreed to testify for me about this sloppily installed and potentially dangerous concern if the case went to small claims, but that the director was the one who told me to send the registered letter in the first place.

The builder seemed to lose all his confidence with that information, mumbled something about getting back to me, and I had the first worker and the builder at my door in the morning.

This is another point I want to suggest. Mine was a long list, and we had to have a number contractors, and I didn't want more mistakes made while the first were getting corrected. So I made it a requirement that the builder be there the whole time his contractor was on our property to oversee any and every correction. I figured if my family had been inconvenienced for more than half a year, I'd make sure he was doubly inconvenienced in the fix-up, so he was onsite for any new situation, and each problem would truly be fixed this time.

Long story short, we had everything to our satisfaction by the end of the month.

Start putting the screws to him, Kate. Show him you're tough. Make him wish he still had your Greek around, too.

Barbara said...

My husband used to fix or build anything. He was a genius, no matter whether it was problems with our house or our vehicles. Then he got Parkinson's and now is unable to do any work or figure out how to do things, so we are finding out what it's like to have to hire everything done.

I'm hoping that his mere presence will save me from being taken advantage of because I'm a woman, but through the years I've learned to be firm and not hesitate to hire a lawyer for problems.

However, Small Claims is a joke. When my husband was in business, we had to resort to Small Claims several times. No one was at all inclined to be cooperative after we received a judgement against them. Twice we took it further and had a Sheriff's auction (we were the only ones there) and had two different results. In the first case the owner showed up and wrote us a certified check. The second time we had to take whatever we thought we could use from their office and the sheriff's deputies figured how much was enough. I'm still using one of the latter's cabinets in my kitchen!

I hope we won't have too many sad stories like yours.

Unknown said...

He has shown you the poor quality of his work. He will not do the work to your satisfaction. I would either go to Small Claims Court and/or pay someone competent to do the work. Yes he took advantage of you but you may have to pay again to get it done right. Write him up on Yelp.
We hired a painter to do our entire six bedroom house after checking references. On the first scheduled day, he did not show up. When I called him he said he did not feel good, but looked fine. I had the advantage of my husband being present for the negotiations and we did not pay him the balance until he had done every single thing on the punch list. Rushing to get paid, I caught him scraping my bedroom ceiling without placing a drop cloth over the bed. I hate him to this day.

Kate Collins said...

Thanks for your suggestion about Yelp, Debra. My mistake, besides trusting this man, was in paying him in full. Learn the hard way, I guess.

Kate Collins said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your husband, Barbara. Isn't it a shame that there are so many disreputable businessmen out there? I do know the judges in town since my husband was the Chief Public Defender, so maybe going to court is the way to proceed. Or at least to tell this dummy that's what I plan to do. He knows my connections so maybe that will scare him.

Kate Collins said...

You are absolutely right,Joanie. I need to put the screws to him. I know my Greek is around me, so I guess I should channel his energy!

ANNETTE said...

I would imagine that he must be licensed to do business - contact the licensing bureau, contact BBB, and get statements from everyone who came and looked and walked away because of the quality of the work. I agree YELP is not a bad thing either. If you have an attorney who could write a letter describing the lawsuit which is planned, that would not be a bad thing either.

I do not believe you want the guy doing the work again. He obviously has had a severe head injury which caused him to lose all skills he had when he worked for your husband. Find someone else who will come and do a perfect job for you.

If you want to be very generous before the attorney's letter, let the guy know what you are going to do, and ask for the funds to pay to fix his mess. And worse case scenario, we can all come and picket on your behalf.

Elaine said...

I have to tell you about one time when I think being a woman helped me. Last summer I was driving from my home the 750 miles to my parents' home. My dad was not well and I planned to do the trip in one day and wanted to get there. I hit a big bird on the Interstate and it smashed my windshield. I was in the middle of Minnesota. I called around to see if anyone could replace my windshield that day. I finally called The Glass Doctors in Sioux Falls. They checked to see if they had one. They could get one by the next day. I asked if they could get it the same day. They checked and they could but I would have to be there by 4. I started crying. I still had over 100 miles to drive to get there. I couldn't make it before 5. They were so nice and asked their technicians if they would mind staying late to work on it. They would. I was so, so grateful! I got there a little before 5 and they went to work right away. By 6:30 I was back on the road and made it to be with my mom around 11 that night. And The Glass Doctors didn't even charge me extra! If only more people and businesses were like them!

ladyvyvian said...

I'd take him to court and get someone else. Report him to the BBB as well. He is not going to do what you want him to do by this time. Talk to your friends and see who they can recommend that did a good job for them.

Kate Collins said...

Elaine, what a heartwarming story! It restores one's faith in humankind, doesn't it?

Kate Collins said...

My update: He was supposed to be here with a drywaller late morning. When he didn't show, I left a message on his phone (he won't answer my calls) and said I was advised to sue and I would if I didn't get action now. A drywaller showed up an hour later alone. He didn't even know who had called him, just that he was supposed to be at my house. He was appalled by the job and said I had been taken advantage of. This very nice guy said he would get it done right starting next week. Yay!!!

Kate Collins said...

Thank you, Annette!! Please see my update below. I am going to contact the BBB and look into YELP.

Kate Collins said...

Jeannie, you're right! See my update at the bottom.

Kate Collins said...

Edith, thanks for the tips. I paid him way more than the amount allowed for a small claim, but I do think he will pay for the drywall to be fixed. I've let him know I'm prepared to go to court.

Unknown said...

I am so happy for you Kate!