UT Reader Asks: What Can You Do If Your Contractor Stops Working?

by Shilpi Paul


In this installment of UrbanTurf Reader Asks, a DC homeowner wonders what to do when his contractor stops coming in to work before the project is finished.

I’ve hired a general contractor to renovate my one-bedroom condo. The project started out well; it moved along quickly and the quality of work was high. The GC was responsive, offered a lot of his own good ideas, and kept up the momentum. Probably 80 percent of the job was complete within the first couple months.

But now the work has started lagging badly, and the GC is all but unresponsive. I worry the remaining 20 percent could take as long to get done as the first 80 percent—if at all.

I haven’t lost all hope that the project will get back on track, but I worry about what to do if it doesn’t.

I haven’t paid the full job amount yet, and of course I won’t remit the final payment until everything is done. But the outstanding balance may not be enough of a lure, as I know that the GC has other much bigger jobs than mine he’s working on contemporaneously.

I was hoping UT readers could offer some suggestions about how to induce the contractor to finish the job in a timely manner.

Should I threaten legal action? Or maybe start with threatening a bad Angie’s List or Yelp review?

Readers, what do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments section. If you would like to submit a question for UrbanTurf Reader Asks, send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


See other articles related to: ut reader asks, urbanturf reader asks, contractor

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ut_reader_asks_what_can_you_do_if_your_contractor_stops_working/7125


  1. KL said at 3:56 pm on Wednesday May 29, 2013:

    I had a similar issue, but the contractor ultimately finished the work after I pestered him for awhile.

    Legal action should be a last resort. Most contractors juggle a number of different jobs, so you just need to stay on top of them.

  1. Joe said at 5:59 pm on Wednesday May 29, 2013:

    The best way to avoid this problem is to never overpay during construction, and negotiate 10% retainage to secure completion. That last 20% of the work can be more costly and aggravating for the contractor, who prefer to be earning the next 80% almost finishing the next job.

    And, squeaky wheels do get the grease. If your not complaining, the contractors not worried about their reputation.

  1. KS said at 10:07 pm on Wednesday May 29, 2013:

    I’ve often wondered if it’s common or at least possible to put a clause in the contract for deducting a certain amount for days the project goes over due the workers not showing up.  i’ve done three rounds of renovations now and that last 10% drives me to tears. each time we’re two weeks away, they stop showing up every day and it’s pulling teeth for another month or two. not only is it costly but a monumental drain on my time when I schedule to be there and they don’t show.  i’m about to start reno round 4 and would love to find a way for them to be responsible for mismanagement.  has anyone found a way to hold them financially responsible?

  1. Jimmy Dean said at 2:21 pm on Thursday May 30, 2013:

    Easy, pay him 20-30% to begin the work, and the remainder after he completes it (or in stages as he completes the job)! Of course you must only hire a contractor based on references…not some sham of a site like angie’s list.

  1. Jimmy said at 3:18 pm on Thursday May 30, 2013:


    Yes, it is common in commercial contracts to include a “liquidated damages” in which the parties agree that the contractor will pay a fixed amount for every date his work extends beyond an agreed completion date. Good negotiators can include this in a residential contract. This will not end all disputes, however.  If the owner delayed the contractor, the liquidated damages cannot be assessed. So, the owner and contractor will still fight over recovery of the damages - but it still is a big incentive for the contractor to complete his work. If helps to tiethe date to final completion, and not substantial completion.

  1. John said at 11:57 am on Sunday June 2, 2013:

    Renovating a one-bedroom condo that takes several months? Something sounds very wrong with this picture. It’s easy to sympathize with the home owner, who authored this appeal for advice, but I suspect there are other larger issues at work here beyond the simplistic scenario being presented.

  1. AnonPM said at 5:25 pm on Tuesday June 4, 2013:

    I have the pleasure of working with contractors on a daily basis.  I’m not sure in this particular situation what approach may be best, but I did want to offer some insight to their approach.

    The first thing to keep in mind is contractors (yes, I’m generalizing but when it applies to 80-90% I’m fine with those odds) are really good at fixing things and really bad at “paperwork. ” They are the C students who skipped class and didn’t like the teacher in their face.  Sometimes, less push gets a better response.  A constant drip instead of escalating shrieks.

    Don’t show frustration, just communicate and “check-up” a couple times a week.  They get to choose who they work for, would you want to work for a frustrated, posturing boss?  Or visit a semi-hostile workplace?  They don’t either.

    They DO understand leverage.  Not lawsuits, but additional work.  I’d tell him another resident in the building saw and liked the work and wanted his info “when the work is complete.”  Yes, it’s a ploy but a potential icebreaker.  And if he finishes and does a good job, why not pass his info along?

    And finally, an honest, direct approach when above isn’t working.  “Bob, I’d like this done, what are the hurdles to complete this?”  Because most of the other clients lose their sh!t, scream and threaten, so putting the cards on the table, in an open way, is a comforting and surprising approach.  It shows you want to work WITH, not dictate TO.  Also, asking,“Do you really want to finish this job?” can also get a surprisingly honest answer which either motivates him or brings closure to the job.  Honesty works because they want to do right by good people.  Play the part of good people.

Comments are closed.

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