What to Do if Your Carpenter Disappears Off the Job

    If I were a carpenter
    Source: Flickr - Noel Feans

    A home renovation is an exciting project. Whether you’re replacing kitchen cabinets, installing wainscoting, or just repairing a broken piece of furniture, an experienced carpenter can do wonders. And if you live in a city like Newark or Houston that was hit hard by a hurricane, you may be in desperate need of a carpenter to repair your deck or other outdoor structure that was damaged.

    For these reasons, a carpenter is a valuable professional. That is, of course, if he’s reliable. Unfortunately, many homeowners have experienced carpenters who either didn’t do what they promised or simply left before completing the work. If you hired a carpenter who has disappeared without finishing the job, here are some of your options.

    Try to Contact Him

    The first thing to do is to try to contact your contractor. Leave both a voice mail and a text message on his phone with your name, contact details and explanation of why you are calling. If you know his email address, send him an email as well or use the "Contact Us" box on his website (keep a screenshot of your message). If the contractor is actually a subcontractor or a staff member working for someone else, contact his superior. Wait about 24 hours before becoming concerned at a lack of response.

    If He Says He Won't Finish the Job

    If the carpenter has left and actually told you he will not complete the job for whatever reason, discuss the situation and try to persuade him to change his mind. If this does not succeed, you may be able to apply some pressure. CAVEAT: Seek legal counsel before taking any of the following steps. You don't want to put yourself in the position of being sued for breach of contract.

    Has he left any tools or materials around? If so, you might (operative word: "might") be permitted to lock them up. You may also be able to withhold payment until the carpenter has completed the job. However, if you have already written him a check, with your attorney's approval, contact your bank and try to put a “stop payment” on the check before it is deposited. (Beware, though: in some states it is illegal to stop payment of a check for any reason except loss or theft.) A credit card payment may be disputed with the card issuer.

    Seek Legal Action

    If you have a valid contract, you can take the carpenter to court. However, this tends to be a lengthy and often expensive process. You might do better contacting the bureau that issued his license or bond; the numbers of these should be included in your contract.

    If court seems like the best option, set up a paper trail. Send the carpenter a registered letter detailing the work that has been completed and the part that was not finished or done in an unsatisfactory manner. Keep a record of all your attempts to contact him, with times, dates, and responses, if any. Take photographs to document the state of the project.

    Always protect yourself. Don’t hire someone if he seems unreliable; check references, online reviews, and Better Business Bureau reports. Be sure you have a signed contract detailing the exact nature of the job, payment schedule, and timeline for completion. Do not pay more than 50 percent up front and request a receipt for each payment. 

    Updated May 29, 2018.

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