Can a freelance plumber charge late fees to an invoice when a contract was never signed?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a freelance plumber charge late fees to an invoice when a contract was never signed?

Back in May, a Plumber came down off a referral from my mother. He was an hour
and a half late, making me late to an appointment, as I had to stay with the
children while my husband helped him the whole time he was here. I have proof
he was late via a text I sent that morning to him asking if he was still
coming. He left without giving us a bill. He did tell my husband that if he
were to return to put in a new sump pump it would be 50 an hour. I texted him
a week later asking what the charge was for services rendered the week before.
No response. Two months later we received an invoice with a charge that was
alot more than expected for the work done. The following month he sent another
invoice now adding on late fees. I have requested him to call or provide an
itemized/detailed invoice calling out how the amount owed was calculated. He
has added on a late fee every month and has sent a nasty letter threatening to
go to court if we don’t pay in full by a certain date.

Asked on January 28, 2018 under Business Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

While there does not need to be a signed contract for late fees, there must be clear notice of them before you sign up for the work or service or have work done. If the plumber prominently has on his website language indicating that there are late fees when invoices are not paid on time, that could be enough: nowadays, it is reasonable to expect customers to go to a business's websites, and if you hire the plumber when he has a prominent notice of late fees, that could be sufficient to hold you to those fees. (The theory is, if you hire someone knowing--or at least when you could have known, since information was easily available to you--about late fees, you agree to the fees through the act of hiring them.). But if there was no notice of the fees at all prior to you engaging the plumber, he cannot charge them; in this case, there are no grounds for concluding that you effectively agreed to the fees, since you cannot agree without notice of them.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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