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Builder hell - what are my options

(7 Posts)
lorna111 Sun 07-May-17 18:42:23

I'm in the middle of having my small Victorian terrace renovated. I did all my research and found a builder who seemed reliable and had recommendations. He is an electrician and not VAT registered.

We are now three months in and basically work has ground to a halt. My 6 year old son and I are living in a building site - no ceilings in kitchen and sitting room, electrics half finished, heating half finished, house is filthy due to ceilings being open to the joists, no skirting boards, no shower (we have a bath, but it's not fixed to the floor properly), no worktops in the kitchen, etc etc. We moved in a month ago and progress has been very very slow.

The main issue is that for the first two and a half months I was making payments to him via a pre-agreed payment schedule. In total, I've paid him around £18k, and only owe him around £1500. Clearly a mistake on my part, but while I was paying him, work seemed to be going on and I had no reason to mistrust him. Effectively, I have paid for the work but he hasn't done it.

Last week, he came to the house three days out of four (bank holiday) but he literally put about 10 tiles on the wall, shuffled some tools around and that was it. He told me on Friday that he's not got enough money to pay the kitchen fitter or decorator and he is now going to be off our job 'for a few days', while he works elsewhere.

The final straw is that he took out the bathroom window last week, and didn't fit the new one (which has been sitting in the house for 3 weeks) - his badly tacked on plasterboard blew in on Friday afternoon, leaving us with a gaping hole all weekend. The house is cold anyway. My son and I had no choice but to tape up a bit of old tarpaulin to cover it - the builder hasn't returned my calls all weekend. The plasterboard also knocked over the brand new freestanding bath tap, knocking out the water pipe, so now we have no bath or hand held shower either.

I'm feeling pretty desparate (and broke). Has anyone been in this situation (I imagine so), and if so, what did you do about it? Am I better off cutting my losses? Is the small claims court an option?

I'm not that happy with the quality of his work so far either. The whole thing is a mess.

Thanks for any advice.

namechangedtoday15 Sun 07-May-17 18:59:05

If you've paid him according to an agreed schedule, what did that say? Did it specify payment on completion of particular tasks, or just dates?

You need to set it out quite clearly what you think he's done, what you've paid him for and what therefore is the difference. If he's done shoddy work, give him 7 days or something similar to put it right.

Then set out in writing that if he fails to put the shoddy work right / do what you have paid him for, you will expect him to leave the site and you will seek recompense through the Court.

However, before you kick him off the job, do some research. Is he a limited company or a sole trader? Who have you actually paid? Regardless of the legal position, if he's got no money to pay you back (I.e. if you have to pay for another builder to do again what you've already paid for) then practically speaking, it might be better to get him back. That's also true if you don't have the money upfront to pay for extra work now.

lorna111 Sun 07-May-17 19:30:44

Thanks namechanged. Good advice.

Yes, I am absolutely kicking myself about not paying based on work completed. It was simply a regular payment schedule based on dates. Cannot believe I have made such an error. Anyone else reading this, please beware.

However, because I'd found him via MyBuilder (he had good reviews), checked him out, followed up several references, visited a house to see similar renovation work that he'd carried out, etc. I had no reason to think that things would turn out this way.

On top of it all, he has moved house and I only have his old address. Can I still take him to court if this is where this ends up? How would I send him a letter of action? This all makes me sound like such a mug but I still don't think he set out to rip me off financially, he has just been very unreliable.

He is a sole trader. He is clearly pleading cash flow issues to me, but has talked about buying a buy to let flat, has several cars, a van, etc.

Madmotherintheattic Sun 07-May-17 22:17:30

Oh I'm so sorry. This sounds like a nightmare. I'm slightly worried he's just going to ghost you, given that you've paid him all but 1500. I would chase him very hard right now and let him know you are not going to be a pushover. Were any of the payments made by credit card (if so, challenge)? You need to find his address so you can deliver a recorded delivery letter setting out the terms - he needs to be at your house finishing the job, or you will pursue him through the courts and review him accordingly on that site, and everywhere else. Seven days. Then begin court proceedings. If you have a handyman or handy friend, can you get your water pipe reconnected at least? (Deduct the cost from the 1500 you owe him)? I would show up at his last address and ask where he has moved to. With builders, I tend to think the squeaky wheel gets the attention.

lorna111 Sun 07-May-17 22:55:40

Thanks madmother. Just can't believe it's happening but yes, I will need to get into tough mode and set out terms. He's really shafted me financially. If he has run off with my cash and is not returning, I will be using everything I've got in my power to make life difficult for him in terms of getting work. I've even thought about going to the local newspaper and presenting my story - rogue trader rips off single parent, leaves asthmatic 6 yr old with unsafe electrics and no heating etc etc etc. I have plenty of pics. Just so so angry somebody can do this and I really don't deserve it.

Indaba Mon 08-May-17 12:45:23

It may be worth calling your local Trading Standards, and the CAB. Both will give you lots of free advice as to best next steps. Good luck!

timealone Mon 08-May-17 21:10:47

We've been in a similar situation. We paid our builder a 10% deposit upfront, then stage payments after certain milestone were reached eg. Foundations done etc. However, the stages weren't itemised in any further detail, and we are certain that we overpaid.

It's a long story, but he had only got through about 50% of the build in around 12 months (original estimate was 5 months) so we eventually got a new builder. The new builder pointed out so many things that the old builder had done wrong. We got this confirmed by building control. It is now costing us a lot more but it was the best decision for us in the end.

Legally if you want to reclaim any money, you probably need to give him a reasonable level amount of time to finish and correct anything that is poor quality. If he doesn't finish in that time, you could get another builder in and reclaim excess costs from the first builder, if you want to go down that route. Do background checks to find out as much as possible. If he is not VAT registered, he may not have a Ltd company therefore would be personally liable for the costs. However, if he has no assets then he wouldn't have anything to pay you.

It would be good to document things by taking lots of pictures and keeping a record of when he comes and what work he does. Will the work require building control sign off? If so, ask them to come round now and assess whether it is up to scratch. Our building inspector sent us a letter listing all the things that were wrong, which is now a very important document to us! You could also consider getting a building surveyor (same type of person who does surveys before you buy a house) to come out and write a report but it will cost you more.

Good luck. It is really horrible.

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