Though you have legal rights and remedies discussed below, as a practical matter prevention is often the best cure regarding bad contractors. Carefully hiring a reputable, licensed, insured contractor who has adequate assets you can reach in the event you have to sue gives you the best chance of ultimately getting quality home improvement work completed.
West Virginia has adopted consumer protection laws that are designed to protect consumers from defective workmanship and fraud. The law follows the Federal Trade Commission Act and is called the West Virginia Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices Act (UDAP). This law allows you to sue the contractor in court. Suits may be brought for misleading or fraudulent practices as well as for failure to honor a warranty.
Three types of warranties exist: written, oral, and implied. The UDAP statute will enforce written warranties; however the UDAP statute does not enforce oral warranties. If a contractor orally gives you a special warranty, you must get it in writing to be able to exercise your rights later.
The UDAP statute will enforce implied warranties. A warranty may be implied by the nature of the transaction, regardless of whether anything is said by the contractor in words or in writing. For instance, when you buy something, the law provides a warranty that it will work for its intended purpose. A contractor cannot waive or say that he or she is not subject to any implied warranties provided under the law.
If you are dissatisfied with the work performed by a contractor, your first step is to discuss the matter with the contractor or the contracting company to try to resolve the conflict reasonably quickly. If the contractor’s work is defective or fraudulent, you should inform the contractor of the defects and request that he or she fix them. If you are making payments to the contractor, you may choose to stop payments. However, you could later be held responsible for back payments if the work is not found to be defective.
If you stop making payments to the contractor, deposit the payments into a special account set up specifically for that purpose. If the contractor refuses to make the repairs, you may then find someone else to fix them. You may have to pay for the same work twice if the first contractor’s work is found not to be defective.
If you decide to get another contractor to fix the defects, get the second contractor to estimate the cost of the work first, then send the estimate to the original contractor. If he or she refuses to pay it, you can sue in court. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. The office will send you a complaint form and assign a mediator to work with you to help solve the problem. The phone number for the Consumer Protection Division is 1 (800) 368-8808.
Furthermore, if the Attorney General brings a lawsuit against the contractor and wins, you can use this as conclusive proof in your own suit. Consequently, a successful action by the Attorney General makes your case very strong.
If you file a lawsuit, you can either get a second contractor to perform the work or wait until the dispute is resolved. If at all possible, you may want to wait until the dispute is resolved to protect yourself before you spend any additional money. That way, you can be sure that you will not have to pay both contractors. If you are successful in court, you can recover at least $200, even if your actual damages were less than that. In addition, if the acts of the contractor violate the UDAP statute, you can also collect attorney fees.
If you go to court and there is a judgment in your favor, you may also choose to register a complaint against the contractor with the West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board. In order to register a complaint send them a copy of the judgment. The Licensing Board may fine the contractor or suspend the contractor’s license, depending upon the circumstances of your case. Your complaint must be in writing, and it must be made to the Board only after a judgment has been issued in your favor. To register a complaint, write to the following address:
WV Division of Labor
West Virginia Contractors Licensing Board
State Capitol Complex
Building 6, Room B749
Charleston, WV 25305
For more information, see: Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 41– 58 (2010); 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301–2312 (2010); W. Va. Code §§ 46A-6-101 to -110 (2011)