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I shouldn't have to ask this, but.....

GroundUp
GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474
Hello all, I am having a hard time with this and I do not know who else to ask. I know many of you are/were self employed wet heads and I'm hoping some can share some insight on a customer dispute.

Back in April, I had a gentleman approach me about a radiant floor heating system in a new home he was building. There was a timeline set that showed the boiler install to be completed in July. He wished to save some money by doing the tubing install himself, which I was okay with, so I designed the system and gave him a final price for material only on the tubing side and full installl of the boiler system. He gave me 50% down on the whole job as I require from everybody to secure a given price, to eliminate market fluctuations. I ordered the boiler and indirect, and all major components to lock in that price and have been storing them in my shop. He took the tubing kit home and spent 3 months installing it himself. I rented him my foam stapler on a handshake at $X/day, and he kept it for almost 2 months but "only used it for 2 days", and then brought it back broken anyway and I had to buy another one. The project kept getting pushed back until a couple weeks ago, he said he was ready for a boiler and needed it done that same week. I explained that I needed more than 2 days notice, and that I could do it after Thanksgiving. A few days later, he canceled the install until spring which I was okay with, but I requested he come pick up his equipment as I've stored it long enough at this point which also had a balance on the invoice- as I am not sending equipment home with somebody when it is not paid for (the 50% did not cover all materials). He refused to pay the balance but was willing to pick it up. I asked if he would prefer a refund for the equipment if he didn't want it, which he also refused. He then suggested yesterday that I come on Saturday and install this system, but not commission it until spring. I again reminded him that I need more notice, since he canceled his post-Thanksgiving install and I filled it. That was not an option according to him, so I politely suggested that if he's not willing to wait a few weeks for install that he find another contractor and I'd be happy to refund the balance of his down payment for the material that he is refusing to pick up. I asked literally 8 times for an address to send his refund, and he will not provide one- just keeps saying I have to install this system on Saturday. I told him that I am letting him go as a customer, and will not be doing this job- and again asked for an address with yet another refusal.

He sent me this long message about how he is not willing to let me back out of this job and will seek legal counsel to force me to do it at the quoted price from what will have been almost a year prior, because material is higher now and my wait time is "causing him damages", despite proof in text messages of a suggested July completion date and then cancelation until spring. I reminded him that he is able to purchase the material at the original price if desired, but I will not be doing the install any longer due to his unwillingness to cooperate. I then got a call from the Sheriff's office last night accusing me of theft. I am so done with this guy. Does anybody have some pointers for the future on how to handle customers like this? Obviously a contract with a time frame would be helpful and I should have structured my down payment a little differently, but is there something you've found to be useful when firing a customer?

Comments

  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 655
    This is one of the reasons i don't get involved with piece mail jobs. I only do installations if i'm doing 100% of the job. Homeowners have unrealistic expectations for this type of work.

    Like @Jamie Hall said. Get a lawyer and don't talk to this guy. They will start recording everything you say and use it against you. Especially anything you said previous to the falling out. And don't call his lawyer if you get a letter stating their intent to sue you like i did and leave a nasty message, lol. I didn't sound good at the deposition.
    HomerJSmith
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 279
    Talk to your lawyer.
    HomerJSmith
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474
    @pedmec oh dear, that sounds like something I would have done in my younger days! I started buying rental property in my early 20s and self managed while still full of p!$$ and vinegar, it landed me in hot water more than once!

    Regarding the "piecemeal" jobs, it's honestly my bread and butter. Maybe 10% of my jobs have me doing the whole thing. Some have unrealistic expectations, but most have been pretty reasonable.
    CLamb
  • Lance
    Lance Member Posts: 227
    All advice to get counsel is correct. Advise atty, that owner may have had to have inspections done for his work before you continue. Does local law require owners to get their work permitted? You have a permit? or was that the next step before you were to start. Convoluted this is. If his delay caused a breach in the timeline stated, then you may have protection against a default. If the consumer has no risk, or loss he cannot claim any. Who breeched first? Refund allows an out to be negotiated with you attorney. Your loss only needs no attorney, his threat to you will. And will require a served written notice. Why would a Sheriff accuse you without prior notice in a civil matter? Advice for the future. If you want to be contractor, learn and know contract law. To be ignorant of the law and torts and agreements in all forms is to put yourself in the poor house or worse. Contract tip, the so-called boiler plate language and other terms is used to cover all aspects to deal with when things go wrong. Limitations must be agreed upon by both parties as well as the expectations. Business Principle: If you don't inform someone of your expectations, you will be doomed to be subject to theirs. This goes in all relationships between humans and animals. Wise is the man who refuses to deal with those who lack integrity. Trust cannot be assumed; it must be earned.
    Larry WeingartenMikeAmann
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,654
    Get a lawyer. Have no contact with him or his lawyer. Let your lawyer handle it.
    HomerJSmith
  • HomerJSmith
    HomerJSmith Member Posts: 1,815
    edited November 24
    The first red flag was that he wanted to do the pex install himself. If the pex install didn't follow your outline, which is highly probable, you would most likely get a visit from his lawyer. I have a good sense of the people I deal with and politely avoid those low lifers. I had one person that wanted some work done and he casually told me he had to sue his former contractor. I told him that I was really busy and couldn't possibly get to him until 2025. His statement about his former contractor wasn't a red flag, it was a brick wall.

    Stick to your guns and consider yourself lucky you weren't more involved.
  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,797
    @GroundUp - I feel for you. I think most of us contractors or former contractors have had a handful of customers like this. The sheriff showing up is a bridge too far by a long shot. Great legal advice above and nothing I could add to that, but I would do everything in my power to rid my life of that guy and avoid the likes of him in the future. 
    I guarantee you this is his normal operating procedure and you’re likely one of many who’ve had to deal with this tool. I had one just like him in the early 90’s and I stood firm because I know I didn’t do anything wrong. So my suggestion is to do the same by way of your attorney and beware moving forward. Best of luck to you. 
    Steve Minnich
    hot_rodGroundUpMikeAmann
  • realliveplumber
    realliveplumber Member Posts: 70
    Try to remember the hundreds if not thousands of good customers you had before this.......individual. It helps ease the stress.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 17,531
    what a drag, seems like he set you up from minute one. Karma will catch up with him someday 
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    GroundUpkcopp
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474

    The first red flag was that he wanted to do the pex install himself. If the pex install didn't follow your outline, which is highly probable, you would most likely get a visit from his lawyer. I have a good sense of the people I deal with and politely avoid those low lifers. I had one person that wanted some work done and he casually told me he had to sue his former contractor. I told him that I was really busy and couldn't possibly get to him until 2025. His statement about his former contractor wasn't a red flag, it was a brick wall.

    Stick to your guns and consider yourself lucky you weren't more involved.

    So if the guy buys material from Home Depot and installs it himself, HD is liable for poor install? Hardly. 90% of my jobs have the tubing installed by others. While this particular guy is indeed a low-life, these are very different things.
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,406
    You might give some thought to what motivates this clown. My guess is that he is motivated by money and enjoys being a bully.
    You might consider giving him two options. Either accept the refund and consider the matter closed or you are going to spend the remainder of his money to hire a lawyer and countersue for filing a false report.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    GroundUp
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 2,702
    Hi, So much can be done with a letter! It sounds like if a judge were looking at all the details of this case, the judge would toss it as frivolous. Have your lawyer write a letter to the opposing lawyer explaining that your case is strong and when you win, you'll ask for and likely be awarded attorney's fees, at a minimum. Now for your bad client, there is a risk of losing money. A well-written letter can settle this in a relatively inexpensive way.

    Yours, Larry
    PC7060Solid_Fuel_Man
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    It would have cost you less to have hired a lawyer to help you develop a form to fill out for each job that covers these possibilities.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    Your lawyer needs to handle the communication with the sheriff. It sounds like they just annoyed them until they called you and didn't actually file anything.
  • Adk1guy
    Adk1guy Member Posts: 39
    The type of people who threaten to call lawyers as a first reaction don't know how the world or lawyers really work. I suppress the urge to laugh at such statements. No sense goading. It costs a lot of money to file a lawsuit and his lawyer will know that and will hopefully see there is no case, no pot of gold, and probably advise him to settle with you.

    If it were me, I would write a letter to this guy stating my position. That I am happy to send him a refund or he may buy the materials and not lose to inflation, and to please respond by US mail from this point forward and I will not be taking his phone calls and have no more verbal interaction. Brief, cordial, to the point writing each letter with the thought to preparing a file to show to a judge " Your honor this is the letter I sent him via certified mail ..." Judges like documentation and don't like verbal, he said she said, and they won't look at your phone at text messages, you need to print those out. I would not waste money on a lawyer unless I am served a lawsuit.
    If you hire a lawyer to talk to his lawyer it only makes money for the lawyers.


    Disclaimer: That's what I would do, but I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.
    realliveplumberZmanSolid_Fuel_Man
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    If you understood contract law well that might be ok, but experimentally isnt the way to learn. A lawyer will make sure your letter says everything it needs to say and nothing it shouldn't and having a lawyer write a letter isnt that expensive compared to having them fix it later.
  • HomerJSmith
    HomerJSmith Member Posts: 1,815
    edited November 25
    GroundUp, I've never been surprised at what people will do for a buck, what surprises me is what they won't do for a buck. These kinds of people can make your life miserable and they are like a tar baby. Most people are good or want to be that way and there are others that just don't care to.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474
    Adk1guy said:

    The type of people who threaten to call lawyers as a first reaction don't know how the world or lawyers really work. I suppress the urge to laugh at such statements. No sense goading. It costs a lot of money to file a lawsuit and his lawyer will know that and will hopefully see there is no case, no pot of gold, and probably advise him to settle with you.

    If it were me, I would write a letter to this guy stating my position. That I am happy to send him a refund or he may buy the materials and not lose to inflation, and to please respond by US mail from this point forward and I will not be taking his phone calls and have no more verbal interaction. Brief, cordial, to the point writing each letter with the thought to preparing a file to show to a judge " Your honor this is the letter I sent him via certified mail ..." Judges like documentation and don't like verbal, he said she said, and they won't look at your phone at text messages, you need to print those out. I would not waste money on a lawyer unless I am served a lawsuit.
    If you hire a lawyer to talk to his lawyer it only makes money for the lawyers.


    Disclaimer: That's what I would do, but I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

    I have been a landlord for most of my adult life- this is not the first time someone has threatened to sue me for something ridiculous. Resisting the urge to laugh is difficult, but usually doable. Unfortunately small claims/ conciliation suits only cost $75 to file here so it's anybody's game without a lawyer. I have no address for this fool, or I'd have already sent a certified letter with a check enclosed. The project is a new build at a new location, I have no idea where he actually lives. And yes, I've spent enough time in the court room to know they won't look at a phone- I print all exchanges.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    nolo.com is a good resource too. if you don't have the terms spelled out in a contract, understanding what the state law says those terms are will be important.
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,406
    You should be able to get an address for him. Nearly all regions have a GIS system where you can type in an address and find all pertinent info. Heck, PM me his name and the address of the project, and I'd be happy to help.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    mattmia2GroundUpTinmanMikeAmann
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    you can find the address from the county property record
    CLamb
  • Jersey2
    Jersey2 Member Posts: 133
    'I then got a call from the Sheriff's office last night accusing me of theft.' Theft of what? This guy sounds like a real screwball. What did the Sheriff say? I'm not sure that you have to do anything except continue to store his supplies and wait for a law suit that you would surely win, based on what you explained here. Just don't lose the receipts of supplies and deposit.
    I'm not a plumber or hvac man and my thoughts in comments are purely for conversation.
  • Jersey2
    Jersey2 Member Posts: 133
    Talking about strange customers, have you seen this video? Warning: Foul language is used.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=u5sfCooM30E
    I'm not a plumber or hvac man and my thoughts in comments are purely for conversation.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474
    Zman said:

    You should be able to get an address for him. Nearly all regions have a GIS system where you can type in an address and find all pertinent info. Heck, PM me his name and the address of the project, and I'd be happy to help.

    If only it were that easy. I never got an address for the project either. I know roughly where it is so I'll have to do some creepy drive-by to get a site address (if there even is one yet) but the GIS and county show nothing under his name. I like to think I'm pretty decent at finding information I shouldn't know, but this is a tough nut to crack.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,474
    Jersey2 said:

    'I then got a call from the Sheriff's office last night accusing me of theft.' Theft of what? This guy sounds like a real screwball. What did the Sheriff say? I'm not sure that you have to do anything except continue to store his supplies and wait for a law suit that you would surely win, based on what you explained here. Just don't lose the receipts of supplies and deposit.

    I'm quite familiar with the sheriff's dept in that county so the deputy who called me knows me personally and is aware that this is ridiculous. The accusation was that I stole money from him, since he wrote me a check 6 months ago and I never delivered the goods. I explained to the deputy exactly what happened and offered to send him screenshots of our exchanges, and he just laughed. Said he had to call just to put it on record that we talked, but knows full well that it's bogus. I've already moved his material to the top shelf of my warehouse racking to await the impending summons. About all I can do at this point.