Problem with builder - how should I respond?
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Theo Cupier
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Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2007 10:10 pm

Problem with builder - how should I respond?

by Theo Cupier » Sat Oct 20, 2007 1:48 pm

Apologies in advance, for what will probably be a long post!

I had a fairly major extension done to my house and went fixed price with a reputable builder, using the FMB Plain English, Domestic Building Contract. Total contract was £53K + VAT.

Now, I won't go into all the pain and hassle of living with the building work itself. It felt horrible at the time, but probably not much worse than any other project. Suffice to say that an "8-10 week" estimated project ended up taking around 18 weeks. My only real grumble with the work when it was being done is that he could have maybe taken more care about waterproofing the house whilst the roof / gable wall was gone, during that rather wet June we had.

That and the fact that his project management skills seemed to be useless (always having to wait for materials to be delivered, never having the right labourer to hand when needed).

Anyway. We agreed a few "extras" during the project - the usual stuff: a bit of cabinet work boxing in at the end of the baths, tiling, kitchen fitting. Everything we discussed as a cost extra duly appeared on the statements of account we got and were paid for.

So, we get to the end of the project and on to the snagging list. We provide a list of about 40 issues, everything from broken windows (his newly installed ones that were cracked on arrival) and missing architrave, doors not shutting, electrical switches not working, sinks not plumbed properly (leaking wastes, loose taps) and our electric power showers not working properly.

He fixes half of them and says that the rest (mostly the plumbing ones) are due to faulty parts, not his workmanship. He then demands payment of his final account (to be paid on completion of snagging) and gets a touch shirty when I say we want the rest fixed. We pay and suddenly he's all friendly again - saying that we should feel free to call if we have any other problems.

A week or so later and a couple more problems do arise. The kitchen sink was leaking a lot (the waste pipes weren't connected very well and the sink itself wasn't sealed to the waste outlet properly, despite the huge amount of sealant that had been used) and we wanted to talk about other bits of the plumbing again.

After a couple of reminders, he came to fix the kitchen waste but just walked off after we raised the other plumbing matters and said that if we kept insisting he must fix it, he would "find" about £5000 of other costs to bill us for.

Well, he had recommended we call out Aqualisa (the manufacturers) regarding the showers, so we did. Their engineer looked at the install and immediately showed us the showers had been fitted incorrectly, directly against manufacturer instructions (connected to mains pressure cold, instead of a feed from the header tank). Whilst the engineer was here, he also had a look at the other plumbing problems and said that they were - in his opinion - down to bad workmanship, not faulty parts as the builder claimed.

At this point, we wrote to the builder, insisting he come and fix these problems, citing the Supply of Goods & Services Act 1982 and with the back up of the comments from the Aqualisa engineer.

The letter we received in return was quite rude, again blaming us for buying cheap parts (even the kitchen sink, which he had supplied from his recommended supplier) and including an "Final Invoice" for approx £5000. This invoice included a range of things that I consider to be part of the initial estimate:
- him calling out his plumber to look at one of his faults
- work on the heating part of the plumbing which proved to need more work than he'd estimated (but that's why I went fixed price) and for which no extra cost was ever mentioned
- unblocking a drain that I have no recollection of him doing (or being asked to do)
- fixing other of his own faults (items from the snagging list he suddenly decided to charge for, basically)

There were a couple of things that were not covered by that estimate, but which he had verbally assured us when we raised them would not be chargeable:
- use of T&G boards for bathroom floors, instead of green chipboard
- "extra" wiring work on the electrics.

He insisted the £5K be paid as a condition of him fixing any more faults.

We took some legal advice which indicated that he had no right to make this pre-condition, so wrote again demanding a fix. We also raised two other issues:
1. the leaking kitchen sink had caused water damage to the base unit it was mounted in
2. our carpet fitter had indicated the kitchen sub-floor the builder laid was so uneven it would cost extra to level it before laminate could be laid. In fact, he quoted for 1 extra day to level it, and it took two.

The builder's response to this was to add another £900 to the previous "final account"
- £500 for his plumbing parts when he first repaired the sink (the rep from the kitchen supplier inspected the work and identified two small pieces of waste pipe that were not theirs, total value about £10)
- £400 for self levelling compound to do what levelling of the kitchen floor he had badly done. Surely this would be part of the original contract.

Anyway, we have left him a "reasonable" amount of time to come and fix his faults and he has not contacted us. We are now faced with calling out contractors to fix these problems, bearing the cost ourselves and hoping to get compensation from him, as SGSA 1982 entitles us.

We've since found out that his latest client caught him repointing a chimney that they paid to be completely rebuilt and two previous clients are suing for a total of £25000 for work badly done (one including a kitchen floor that had to be condemned and redone).

So, am I just being precious here, since this is my first major building project? Or have I been hit by a cowboy? Or just a good builder whose errors have backed him in to a corner? Or one who realised he underestimated the job initially and now wants to claw back some profit from us?

Should I just walk away from the relationship with him and take a hit on the £00s it will cost to get the errors fixed? If I did this, I think there are probably things I would not get fixed, simply because I now cannot afford to have them repaired (more window panes that he claimed were "just dirty" but, now I've had a window cleaner round turn out to be cracked/scratched, for example).

Or should I persist with claims against him, spend about £500 getting an independent survey of his work and press on with claims for financial compensation for other contractors doing the work? In addition to which are about £1000 of breakages to our property caused by his men during the work (bookcases smashed when his worker fell through it, expensive bedspreads they took from rooms they weren't working in and decided to use as cleaning rags among other things).

My fear with this is that he will immediately counter-sue for his £5000 + £900. Or do his actions just look like standard "scare tactics" from a builder who knows he's in trouble and which are likely to evaporate as soon as we show we are not to be intimidated?

I know we're "entitled" to have the house in working order, but I can't see this happening without a legal battle over our costs v his costs and I could certainly do with living without that hassle. Am I better just forgetting all about him and paying someone else to fix my house?

Help and advice from those more experienced in the way builders operate would be greatly appreciated.

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Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 8:45 pm

by blackcat » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:14 pm

first i wouldnt pay him a penny untill the snagging list is compleat faulty parts .. never... second independant suryery a must he carnt dispute this as long as you find a problem hold on to tour hard earnd money .... his proffit margin is not a much as he thought it would be hope this give you some encouragment to call his bluff
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Last edited by blackcat on Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

Theo Cupier
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2007 10:10 pm

by Theo Cupier » Thu Oct 25, 2007 10:32 am

[quote="blackcat"]first i wouldnt pay him a penny untill the snagging list is compleat faulty parts .. never... second independant suryery a must he carnt dispute this as long as you find a problem hold on to tour hard earnd money .... his proffit margin is not a much as he thought it would be hope this give you some encouragment to call his bluff[/quote]

Thanks blackcat.

My issue is more that I think he's invented all the extra costs, partly to intimidate us and partly to recover some costs due to his poor estimation. I have no intention of paying him at any point (unless a court decides I have to, and I shall have plenty of evidence o support my view).

I've had advice about getting a surveyor in from other people, to provide an independent view of his shortcomings. My concern is that he's being sued by two previous customers for over £25,000 so I think there is a risk he will not be able to pay us. On this basis, I'd rather spend my money actually getting things fixed than on other "court costs" that I may never recover. At least that way I've got some value for my expenditure.

But what I will do is ensure I get plenty of quotes for all the work we get done, to make it clear we have only incurred reasonable costs.

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by marrtin » Fri Nov 02, 2007 11:56 pm

I think you should take proper legal advice! You may HAVE to sue him - to stop him claiming from you. This IS a cowboy builder and you deserve to be compensated for the shoddy workmanship he has provided you with. The truth is though, you probably won't get satisfaction from him so the best you may hope for is to draw this matter to a conclusion in a way that protects yourself from further financial loss.

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by bobplum » Wed Nov 21, 2007 8:02 pm

you say he is a member of the fmb get them involved and dont pay take it to court under your statutory rights any problems in the first six months he has to prove they are not his fault after that you have to prove liabilty and you can claim upto six years from the date
i install bathrooms and i wouldnt get away with anything like this and this guy is a cowboy

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by woodpecker » Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:25 pm

He sounds like an absolute disaster.

First get the man from Aqualisa and the other people you contacted to put their findings in writing even if it costs you money.
Send a copy of their report together with a list of all damages etc. to the builder stating that if he did not agree in writing to put right all the faults and make good all the damage within one month then you will be suing him for compensation.
Send it recorded delivery.
If he refuses to do as you request take out an action against him in the Small Claims Court. This is a very cheap and simple procedure in which the two parties sit in a small room with a District Judge who hears all the evidence and any witness statements ( use the Aqualisa man etc as witnesses) bearing in mind that you cannot recover the costs of witnesses and the witnesses must give their evidence impartially.
Good photographs of the problems are also useful and be aware that there is no requirement to swear an oath to tell the truth so be prepared for the builder to lie.
Keep copies of all correspondence, every bit of evidence is vital as judges normally don't have much technical knowledge.

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by chris_on_tour2002 » Fri Jun 06, 2008 12:04 am

assuming that your account is accurate then you have him bang to rights - don't let this go. if he tries to sue for the £5.9k i would think it highly unlikely he would succeed. you'd be far more likely to win a compensation claim especially if you have backed up your position with independent professional surveys and advice.

sounds like he didn't know what he was doing with the plumbing. even if the fittings were not of best quality and he was having a genuine problem stopping them from leaking (which i doubt) then it was up to him to bring it to your attention and at least ask that you cough up a little more for decent gear - and we are talking about sink waste pipes here - not a difficult job and in my experience not a massive amount of difference in price or quality for better or cheaper stuff. a competent person should still be able to fit a cheap kitchen waste with no leaks!

and DEFINITELY alert the FMB about this. they will take your complaint very seriously and will almost certainly send one of their own inspectors round. all adds weight to your case.

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