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  • Refurbish/Develop

    Seeking advice - contractor cowboy behaviour

    Hi everyone,
    I hope this is the right forum to post this in.
    I'm writing to ask on best practice to deal with an HMO refurbishing consultant and contractor. He was recommended to me via three independent people. He sells himself as being a one-stop-shop person who will see the license application through to completion, even if the council receives objections and he will represent myself at the consequential hearing.
    The concise story is:
    2008 November - I agreed in writing to his written contract and quote to do all necessary work to take a property of mine from non-HMO to HMO compliant and licensed through the council. He indicated the work would take 3 weeks.
    2009 - February - the work is still unfinished (I did not manage him thoroughly due to some nearly terminal family goings-on around this time) and he vanishes. 80% of the work is done and 80% of his contract is paid. He refuses to answer his phone, email, home door, and myself and my letting manager pick up the pieces, chasing certification for work he has done from various people (which he had kept the certificates for) and in general, dealing with a nightmare.
    Through the grapevine it turns out his wife had kicked him out the house.
    Unfortunately for him I also worked out, and confirmed, that whilst he was ignoring our calls for him (this is about April now) he had been doing HMO conversion work on the basement flat in my block for someone else.
    At this same time, I travelled from home (Brighton) to Glasgow to do the snagging jobs, sort out the flat, and also took another trip to represent myself at the HMO panel, which granted the license.
    2009 August - This chap responds to one of my regular calls chasing him, pleading that marital problems caused it to fall apart, and telling me I still owe him money. He even tries to add fees for work that was part of the original contract. When challenged about doing the work in the basement flat he is dumbfounded, and responds 'but I've do a lot of work for him'.
    I've asked him to return the set of keys he has but he ignores these requests.
    The amount he's demanding is only a few hundred pounds. But he cost me a lot of time, effort, pain, and finance (monthly rental is £1,400), and because of the fact he refuses to acknowledge he's done anything wrong, I expect he will do this again to other people. I want to make sure he cannot do that.
    I'm asking advice on:
    - How best to get closure between him and me?
    - How best to make sure he cannot do this to anyone else?
    Thanks for any help,

    Simon Scott
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    Hi Simon,
    This is a tricky situation and I do feel for you.
    I think the main thing is to keep it amicable if at all possible, and keep the lines of communication open.
    I would change the locks (can be done cheaply enough). He is using holding the keys as a leverage to get his money, so, by changing the locks you make him impotent. Let him know you have changed them as you did not feel comfortable having a spare set of keys floating around. He will then start chasing you! You can then have a reasonable conversation with him about how he is going to complete the work, which you will settle up in full, when it is done.
    I think that you should tell him politely that, if he does not sort this out, you will feel compelled to go onto every property forum in the U.K. and write an unfortunate review of his services. You will also feel compelled to contact the Trading Standards office, the Office of Fair Trading, and Martin Lewis at moneysavingexpert.com who exposes dodgy tradesmen.
    Say that you are very well connected in the property arena, and you really hope that it does not have to come to this as your only agenda is to get the work done, as he originally agreed.
    Do not threaten him. Speak in a reasonable and calm voice and say that you would only do this as a last resort, and you know that it can be resolved without going to such lengths.
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    Simon
    If it was me I think I would be a little more pragmatic that Vanessa (no offense Vanessa). If as you say he has done 80% of the work and you have paid 80% of the cost then IMHO you are not to badly off. Yes you have lost out due to delays but unless you had penalty clauses in your contract with this guy you are going to struggle to get any redress.
    I would do as Vanessa suggests and change the locks, then move on tell him you do not owe him any money and in fact he owes you money for delays and that if he wants to go to court then he is welcome to try (he won't). Threatening to damage his reputation by giving him bad reviews is IMHO not going to have much effect on him and is arguably not the best use of your time and effort, which should be concentrated on getting your property filled and earning you money.
    HTH
    Mike
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    Just to be clear, I was suggesting using possible media exposure as leverage, not to go and slag the chap off on line and then tell him that you had done that!
    Just use it as a bit of persuasion if needed.
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    I think I got your meaning Vanessa, but if you tried that tactic with me I would say OK missus go ahead and do your worst, it would in fact make me less inclined to reach a solution, ok I may be a stubborn bastard at times but I am not the only one :-)

    Mike
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    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for your input, much appreciated.
    I can see various parts to this:
    - Offer him the option of returning the keys, or I will change the locks and add it to his bill. I've already told him that if there are any security issues with the flat his details will be the first that are passed to the police.
    - Potential leverage through the media is doubtful as he's not exactly 'Mr internet', more old school and word of mouth.
    - A landlord association based in Glasgow is asking me to pass on the details so they can help members avoid him.
    - Another landlord association also suggested informing Trading Standards.
    So it looks like:
    Once he's decided what to do, or not do about the keys, I tally up the costs, include loss of rent from him going AWOL, and his bill to me of a few hundred quid (and a lot of cheek) will turn into a bill to him for about £2,000. Copying in all relevant parties into the issued letter (council environmental health, HMO department, fire department, landlord associations, trading standards) could be a nice way of getting an answer from him, with a captive and very relevant audience.
    I'll let you know how I go.
    Thanks again,

    Simon
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