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Ask an Expert: Jilted by my contractor. Now what?

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
June 26, 2012 - 10:58AM

Q.  I'm doing a major kitchen renovation on my co-op apartment. After totally gutting my kitchen, my contractor stopped coming to the job or answering his phone. It's been about two weeks.

I've paid him almost $25,000 of the $63,000 project and I have nothing but a hole to show for it.

What are my rights? What should I do?

A.   The first thing to do is check your contract, say our experts.

"I once did a kitchen renovation in my apartment and was told it would take six weeks, but they were not consecuitve weeks because there are several different trades that need to work on the job and they have a different schedule," says Stuart Saft, a real estate lawyer at Holland & Knight

Of course, your contractor's lack of communication doesn't exactly instill confidence, so check with the New York City Department of  Consumer Affairs and Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints against him.  

Reporting your contractor's behavior to the Department of Consumer Affairs is probably "the fastest way to get the contractor back on the site," says Yoel Borgenicht, the president of King Rose Contracting. "They  can take away his license, which is a strong motivator." 

Jeff Streich of Prime Renovations agrees that consumer affairs is your best bet.

That's assuming you want this contractor back at all.

"I suspect this contractor was going out of business before taking on this job, and used this as an opportunity to steal," says Manhattan architect Ethan Gerard

If that's the case, you may be better off focusing on how to avoid this situation next time.

"One of the best ways to find a good contractor is through friends," says Streich.

Get references from past clients, advises Gerard: "Architect references are even better if the contractor has worked under an architect."

You might also get an architect involved. It costs more but among other benefits, says Gerard,  "disappearing general contractors are virtually unheard of when an architect is involved."

On larger jobs, you could look into getting a performance bond posted, which is basically an insurance policy that guarantees the project will be carried through to completion.

Usually such bonds are used on larger projects and cost about 3 to 7% of the contract amount, says Gerard.

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Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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