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Demolition Progress and Contract Negotiation

February 3rd, 2009

The demolition crew are now removing the rest of the debris from the lot and are simultaneously moving into excavation. My summary of our interactions to date: A really nice group of fairly unreliable guys.

For example: they were supposed to recover several things from the construction site:

  • The kitchen cabinets: Countertop was broken and disposed of before we could say “we’ll take it anyway”. We did reclaim the rest of the cabinets.
  • The wrought iron arch from the kitchen: Smashed. Large pieces missing. It’s inconceivable what their strategy was for removing it that resulted in *any* damage to it, never mind this.
  • 100 year old solid wood 2×6 joists, 2×4 wall supports, up to 1×16″ planks on the walls: “It was all rotted by termites and water damage. We saved what we could.” That was a about 1 dozen *new* 2x4s from the latest addition to the house. It almost makes one wonder how the house could stand if *everything* else was rot. (It also makes one wonder what the value of 2nd hand 100 year old wood is. :-\)
  • All power outlets and light switches: This is weird because I was half done the job. They seem to have thrown out what I had collected up to the time they showed up on the first day.

We did get to keep the front & back doors, breaker box & breakers, and the main power-connection point for the house.

Another oddity: constant contract renegotiation.

They initially wanted $6,500 up front and then a series of payments during the job. We argued that given the widespread corruption problems of their industry, we would be foolish to hand over $6500 — they may just not show up (as is common practice). We have no security.

They, on the other hand, can lien our property for $25 and 10 minutes of their time at city hall. They can lock up our biggest asset if we even hesitate to pay them. Plus since this is the beginning of the build process, they can’t be worried that we don’t have enough budget to get through demolition.

They ultimately agreed to a structure whereby they would be paid in 3 stages as work was completed: Removal of ground floor, removal of basement & foundation, excavation. This was all fine and well until they were partway into the job started hitting us up for early payment.

To make a long story short: they kept offering up factually incorrect reasons why they should be paid early, and blaming the ‘head office’ for making them ask. We ultimately agreed to give them partial payments for the portion of the work we thought had been completed.

In part I really like these guys, but another part of me considers the possibility that we really are just one poorly considered payment away from them running off with what money they have and abandoning the job.

I kept feeling like by saying ‘no’ we were just pushing our interpretation of ambiguous contract language and therefore it was somewhat unreasonable for us to refuse their interpretation. But that wasn’t even close to reality. Our contract could not have been more simply worded, or more clearly defined about when payment was due. It was in no way due.

e.g., it stated debris is to be hauled away before payment. There were 6 (!) bin-loads of debris awaiting removal when they were demanding payment.

You should be prepared to feel like a jerk even when you’re completely in the right, and consider the possibility that holding back payment is the right thing to do, even when the case isn’t so clear-cut. This is another reason why it’s so important to clearly define the work and payment schedule.

Everyone in this industry wants their money early but for 100% of cases where people get scammed, early payment was the crucial mistake.

Posted by Colin