The Dallas Morning News reported a construction defect horror story where a local homeowner hired a contractor to handle a remodel of their home. The contractor appeared on Home Advisor with the website’s assurances that the background had been verified.
That was obviously not the case as the homeowner was defrauded by egregious conduct which constituted both civil violations and criminal acts.
After signing the construction agreement, the homeowners to issued various checks for advances. The contractor then proceeded to demolish the premises and never completed the contractual items. The home was left in shambles and the money outright stolen. It doesn’t get worse than this.
The newspaper provided a non-legal overview of the situation and suggested obvious recommendations such as checking out the qualifications of a contractor before signing on the dotted line.
As a Dallas Construction Law Attorney of many years, I would like to weigh in on what legal options could have been employed by the victims. Here are my suggestions:
1. Do a criminal background check before hiring a home contractor.
Given the amount involved in these contracts and the potential for heartache, I would recommend that a construction attorney do a preliminary review of the proposed home improvement or purchase agreement before execution. The law firm can readily perform an inexpensive criminal background check and consult court records to critically determine if the contractor is involved in litigation. You would be amazed what comes up on attorney data bases!
2. Don’t give away your rights.
I have written extensively on contractual provisions which should be avoided at all costs. Typical problematic clauses which destroy your rights as a homeowner include limitation of damages, merger clauses, and arbitration provisions. Texas law will allow for the loss of your legal rights and remedies if you are not vigilant.
3. Go for the civil “jugular vein”.
If you run into a contractor” low life” as reported by the Dallas Morning News, don’t waste your time negotiating or trying to work it out. In my experience over 30 years, things will just get worse and more expensive. Hire an experienced attorney ASAP and apply as much legal pressure as possible!
In the typical situation, the rogue contractor will abandon the job allowing for the immediate filing of a lawsuit which I highly recommend. Typically, it is not complex or expensive to prepare a fast lawsuit and get it filed. This is critical as you want to get a judgment rapidly, so you are first in line before other aggrieved parties.
When dealing with fraudsters, they typically do not respond to a lawsuit which will allow your lawyer to get a default judgment and then identify and seize assets to recover your damages.
The key is to find a cost effective and nimble law firm which can move fast!
4. Avoid the Residential Construction Liability Act (RCLA) if you can!
The RCLA requires a stand down for 60 days to negotiate an amicable resolution between the homeowner and contractor/builder. The law is helpful when you are dealing with responsible parties but deleterious when confronted with creeps and criminals. If the contractor abandons the job, the RCLA does not apply, which is great news. Your lawyer can attack immediately.
5. Go after Home Advisor!
I have no idea why no one went after Home Advisor in the above case. Regardless of their disclaimers, they did not qualify this criminal contractor and then allowed him to resubscribe which cost other Dallas homeowners tens of thousands more in damages.
I would have considered suing Home Advisor under an array of claims including negligence, misrepresentation, fraud, and even deceptive trade practices.
My recommendation is to consult an experienced Dallas construction lawyer before signing any home improvement or purchase agreement.
At the Moster Law Firm, we stand ready to answer your questions on a complimentary basis. Just give us a call.