DETROIT – It's an often-reported problem to the Help Me Hank consumer unit: contractors that take your money, but don't finish the job. In this case, Gloria Thompson says she hired a company known as the Panama Awning Company in Redford, Michigan (although the receipt also features the name Koolvent) to make new awnings for her home in Detroit, and do some other repair work.
Thompson says she paid the company $2,000 up front and expected them to install the awnings around May 3rd. She was later given a date of May 17th, but the installation never happened. Once Help Me Hank got involved there were more broken promises, leading Thompson to ask for her money back.
Local 4's Hank Winchester tracked down a woman who identified herself as the manager of the company on June 20th. This time, she promised Winchester she would refund Thompson's money by Friday, June 24th. That did not happen, and it hasn't happened yet. That leaves Thompson with the options of taking Panama Awning Company to court and/or she could file a complaint with the Attorney General's office in Lansing.
Hiring a contractor
While this case continues, Help Me Hank working with the Better Business Bureau, offers these guidelines for hiring a contractor and we also offer advice
on how to handle a situation where a contractor isn't honoring your agreement to do business.
*Determine the scope of your project and what you're looking to accomplish and decide what kind of contractor is best for the job.,
*Determine a budget
*Ask family and friends for the names of contractors they have used and trust.
*Solicit at least three bids to get an idea of what the project should cost. Remember the lowest bid might not be the best plan for your project. Interview each candidate and make it a policy that you will never actually sign a project during that first meeting.
*Asked for a detailed contract that spells out everything, including a start date, end date, and payment plan. Contractors may be reluctant to include a specific date as projects can run into unexpected issues. Try to pin them down to a range of dates.
*Ask for references from previous jobs, check those references.
*Be sure to check the builder's license with the state. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has a list of all licensed contractors in the state.
Only by going to that website, can you be sure if a specific business or builder is licensed.
*Check references, check with professional organizations about the reputation of the building, visit previous job sites.
*Read the contract in its entirety. If there's anything you don't understand, ask the contractor to explain what it means. If you have additional question, consider finding legal assistance.
*Never pay the entire cost of a project up front. Many contractors will require some money as a down payment. Be sure to get a receipt. And, be sure to hold a substantial sum to be paid upon completion.
*Request proof of insurance covering workers' compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case of an accident. Ask for a copy of the insurance certificate for your records.
*Ask your contractor to provide lien waivers showing that subcontractors have been paid as the project progresses. If subcontractors are not paid, they are allowed by law to put a lien on your home to get their money. Having those lien waivers can protect your home.
*Make sure the contractor pulls all the necessary permits.
*Request a receipt that is marked "Paid in Full" when the job is done.
When things go wrong
Gloria Thompson of Detroit thought she had done her homework when she called the Panama Awnings Company. She got the referral from a friend who said the company did good work. She paid only half the price up front and she hoped they would follow through. The company claims they've run into staffing issues that prevents them from getting the work done, but Thompson has lost faith and would like a refund.
Help Me Hank spoke with Melanie Duquesnel, CEO of the Detroit Better Business Bureau, about what to do when your contractor fails to honor your contract.
"The minute you start to feel like something's going wrong, you must contact the owner, not the contractor manager, not the contractor that's on site, you contact the owner," said Duquesnel.
She says if the owner doesn't return your call in three business days, start to worry. Then, you need to start tracking your correspondence and taking steps that will help you prove a lack of response if things head toward legal action.
Here are some of the other steps you can take
*Call daily and keep records of each call
*If they don't respond by telephone in one week, write them a letter. Consider sending certified mail so they must sign for it and you can confirm delivery.
*You can also reach out via text or email which can also become a written record or your discussions.
*If you still don't get a response, consider contacting your local police.
*You can reach out to the Michigan Attorney General's office, the Consumer Protection division.
*If you're able to reach your contractor, approach the discussions very methodically. Write down the issue you want to discuss before you pick up the phone.
*Also, try to control your demeanor. "The minute you start getting loud and using foul language, they will immediately shut down," warns Melanie Duquesnel, CEO of the Detroit Better Business Bureau.
*If the contractor gets rude or loud, hang up and disengage from that conversation. Follow up in writing instead.
*If you still can't get resolution, you can call the Better Business Bureau for some mediation.
*If all options are exhausted, you may need to consider legal action. At that point, you will need to weight the cost of the legal action versus the payoff if your legal action succeeds.