Legal Remedy for the Helpless Homeowner

Arik and Olga Idan, who live in Thornhill Ontario, wanted to spruce up their kitchen...a renovation...nothing out of the ordinary.

Geoffrey Jackson and Maureen Chung ran a renovation business out of their home in Cobourg...renovations is what they did.

It seemed like a perfect fit!

All four met, on two different occasions, to discuss the project and draw up plans. Maureen Chung even prepared a contract setting out terms of the project and everybody signed it. When I say 'set out terms' I mean...set out a lot of the terms. The two parties also agreed on some things verbally. Oh, oh.

The reno was not rocket science. Essentially it consisted of:

*small repair tasks;

*kitchen cabinets;

*granite counter-tops;

*a new wood floor to replace the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room;

*installation of a bay window; and

*enlargement of the entrances between the kitchen, the dining room and living room, provided the wall involved in the enlargement was not load-bearing.

The Idans told Ms. Chung and Mr. Jackson that they wished an "all inclusive" price, and the Idans were assured by Ms. Chung that there would be no extra charges.

What could possibly go wrong? They had a written agreement promising the work would be carried out in a workmanlike manner, an oral agreement (for some extras), an agreed upon price, and a relatively easy renovation.

Work began with Mr. Jackson doing it all: the carpentry, the electrical, the plumbing...the works. Was Mr. Jackson a licensed plumber, electrician, heating or gas fitting technician? Well, not exactly. Did that stop him? Well, not really.

Did Mr. Jackson get a building permit for the project? Umm. Don't tell anyone, but no!

You will recall the project to enlarge the entrances between the kitchen, living room and dining room was to proceed only if there were no load-bearing walls involved. Were they load-bearing? You bet. Did that stop Mr. Jackson? Not on your life.

At the trial, the judge found that:

"... The Idans did not understand what was happening with respect to the expansion in the entrances along the hallway and were perplexed why it was taking so long. I believe the evidence and the photographs confirm that the main floor, the garage, and the exterior of the house were filled with debris and the house was in unacceptable disarray, even for a renovation project".

The next major phase of the work was the flooring. After the flooring had been installed, Mr. Jackson reinstalled the washing machine in the laundry room. Unfortunately, he failed to re-attach the clasp on the hose and the resulting flood damaged the newly installed flooring, the ceiling in the basement, and the personal property of the Idans, including books, a carpet and an expensive reclining chair in the basement.

The judge dubbed the project "renovation hell".

When the Idans finally called a halt to the project, Ms. Chung and Mr. Jackson claimed they were owed $19,000 for extras and sued the Idans.

For their part the Idans counterclaimed for $50,000, claiming it would take that much money to completely redo the work undertaken by Mr. Jackson and Ms. Chung.

The judge found that:

"... The goods and services provided by Ms. Chung and Mr. Jackson are worthless. To the extent that they received anything of value, there was no windfall because of the need to redo the renovation and investigate and secure the structural integrity of the house and because of the damages they suffered from the incomplete work and the flood and because of the need to restore their property.

Based on the evidence that I heard, I am satisfied that in order to repair their home, it would cost them in excess of $50,000, which is the amount they claimed in this action..."

In addition to the $50,000 judgement, the judge also awarded the Idans $41,731.72 in court costs.

Ms. Chung and Mr. Jackson felt the trial judge had got it wrong and appealed their case to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Appeal Court summarily dismissed the appeal and awarded the Idans another $19,000 in costs.

Lessons To Be Learned

1. As a practical matter, before entering into any arrangement with respect to renovations, make sure you have reliable references from the renovator, and check those references out. At The Ross Firm, we have seen too many innocent homeowners who have suffered at the hands of "handymen" posing as qualified renovators. Don't be a victim. Make sure the firm you hire has a proven track record.

2. In addition to checking references, do a Google search to see if anyone out there has had any complaints with the contractor's work. It will also be worth your while to check with The Better Business Bureau.

3. As the judge said in the Idan case, "an oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on". Make sure you have a written contract that clearly sets out the entire project.

What follows is a partial list of items to be included in the written contract:

*detail precisely what is included and what is not included in the scope of the work;

*fix the price and break out the amounts to be paid for labour and materials;

*specify what are "extras";

*specify the commencement date and the completion date;

*provide a warranty with respect to the quality of the goods and workmanship; and

*specify who will be responsible for obtaining all required permits and licenses.

4. Have a lawyer experienced in real estate and construction law review the contract before you sign it.

5. If at any time during the project you feel unhappy with the quality of the work, stop the project and don't pay any more money to the contractor until the issues have been resolved to your complete satisfaction. Don't be suckered into vague promises by the contractor, or bullying tactics.

6. Have Mike Holmes phone number on standby...just in case.

At The Ross Firm, we have lawyers whose practice focus is civil litigation matters such as contract disputes.

Give us a call.

Talk to us.

We can help.

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